Will Mobile-First Indexing Impact Online Retailers?

April Davis By April Davis | 17 Apr 2018

Google’s mobile indexing strategy is set to take over from desktop crawling, paving the way for a more mobile-oriented future.

Talk surrounding Google’s rumoured release of mobile-first indexing has been circulating for the last couple of years, but in an official blog post published at the end of March, the tech giant confirmed that it’s now rolling out changes.

In the past, Google’s crawling, indexing, and ranking systems have used desktop versions of a website’s content to analyse ranking signals. However, in light of the shift towards mobile search, bots will now be crawling the mobile versions of websites.

“Considering that, for some industries, mobile now makes up 60 percent of traffic (we see this with our retail and P2P marketplace clients) plus another seven to 10 percent coming from tablets, this move makes absolute sense,” says the managing director at Longtail UX, Andreas Dzumla.

It is important to note that the ‘mobile-first’ index isn’t a secondary form of indexing that’s separate to the main system, rather, Google will be increasingly turning to mobile content to determine a site’s ranking.

According to Dzumla, this could be a strategic move by Google to get retailers to focus on their mobile site’s overall usability.

It will definitely push retailers to focus on the user experience and structure of their mobile sites – which is probably an intended positive side effect for Google when deciding on the “mobile-first” approach,” he says.

The Impact on E-Commerce Businesses

This change is likely to have a varied impact on retailers, depending on where each business stands in terms of digital marketing and prioritising mobile shopping experiences.

As far as Matthew Ware, the head of operations at FIRST is concerned, retailers that aren’t focusing on “delivering impactful mobile content” and “understanding their users’ mobile journeys” will likely fall behind.

“It’s a change that reflects where the industry is going and has been going for quite some time now. The first mobile-friendly update came out in 2015, so businesses have had some time to prepare for this eventual shift. For now, if your website is responsive, the change in indexation should not be of great concern,” he says.

However, retailers will need to start prioritising mobile when it comes to optimising user experiences.

“The first thing any business should do is an audit, [is to see] whether all pages and all content that is available for users, and accessible by search engine crawlers on the desktop version [of their site], is just as available and accessible on the mobile version,” says Dzumla. “The second thing e-commerce businesses should do is check their internal linking: do you provide the same links between pages on mobile that you provide on desktop? While this might not be a factor initially, it can become a factor for ranking in the future,” he explains.

For Ware, the heavier shift towards mobile search means having a technically sound site that’s maximised for mobile performance should be the primary focus for retailers, at least for the time being. In his opinion, site owners should:

  • Utilise accelerated mobile pages (AMPs)
  • Optimise meta data for mobile SERPS
  • Make the most of structured data for SERPS; and
  • Develop content that ties into voice search

He also believes small user experience factors can make a difference.

“Optimising navigational elements, text size, and tap targets are other areas to consider when optimising for mobile search. Hugoboss.com, for example, utilises a swiping navigational function for browsing their clothing categories, as well as the traditional hamburger menu navigation. Again, this is more about user experience.”

Google’s mobile-first indexing strategy is also expected to have an impact on retailers that have focused primarily on app development, instead of developing an effective mobile strategy.

“An app is, and has always been, a nice additional way for the most loyal customers to interact with a retailer, but should never be a replacement. Retailers who have invested millions into app development and have neglected their mobile site will have a lot of catching up to do very fast,” Dzumla explains.

Google has started notifying sites migrating to mobile-first indexing via Search Console, a process that is expected to happen on a rolling basis until the transition from traditional desktop indexing to mobile-indexing is complete.

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