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It’s the end of the world as we know it (but you’ll be fine) (IRM53)

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Mobilegeddon, browsergeddon, cookiegeddon – you’d think that, from a mobile perspective at least, the world as we know it is about to implode. Moves by Google and Apple to make things more mobile and to block cookies respectively won’t necessarily bring about the fall of ecommerce. Paul Skeldon investigates.

The need to go mobile is imperative for retailers: this can’t be overstated enough. Your customers live in a mobile world and retailers need to get that. In fact, a third of all online sales in the UK will take place via smartphones and tablets this year, according to eMarketer, and by 2019 it will be closer to 40%.

Miss it and you miss out: UK retailers are collectively missing out on an astounding £6.6bn per year due to a lack of investment in their mobile offering already, suggests a report into mobile spending from the Centre for Retail Research (CRR). Consumers are on mobile – searching, researching, sharing and buying. Retailers, it seems, aren’t.

“Digital shopping and buying long ago entered the mainstream for most UK consumers, and buying via mobile is just the next step. Indeed, device-agnostic buying, thanks to users’ familiarity with these various device types, is becoming the norm,” commented Bill Fisher, analyst at eMarketer. Retailers have to be on top of this whole new way that consumers shop.

MOBILEGEDDON

However, it is not just this shift in consumer shopping habits that is going to drive this. Google, which increasingly is looking to mobile as the predominant consumer channel, certainly for search, changed its algorithm to make mobile-friendly sites stand out – or rather to downgrade the mobile search rankings of those that aren’t ‘mobile friendly’ – with effect of 21 April to ‘help’ drive all merchants to become more mobile orientated.

The move by Google – dubbed by many as Mobilegeddon – was long mooted and has been driven by Google’s desire to make its product as context-relevant as possible. In a blog post back in April, just prior to the release of the new algo, the company said: “We’ve all been there: you’re on your phone and click through to a website, only to find it’s hard to read or burdensome to navigate because it isn’t formatted for a mobile screen. With mobile phones increasingly becoming the primary way for people to search the internet, we want to ensure that when you search on Google you find content that is not just relevant and timely, but also easy to read and interact with on smaller mobile screens.”

The worry ahead of the update was that many sites would drop off Google altogether, and that many would be relegated to the dreaded ‘page 2’ of search listings on mobile. There would, many argued, become a two-tier marketplace for retailers: those that could afford the costly upgrade to become mobile friendly and those that didn’t. The egalitarian nature of the web was doomed; the level playing field now a very steep incline.

Three months on, did retailers crash and burn as many had predicted?

In a word: no. it seems that many merchants and website owners already had mobile friendly plans in place or upgraded what they did before the algo changed. Enterprise SEO tracking company BrightEdge tracked 20,000 top ranking sites across the change period and found that only 17.3% of those dropped from the number one spot.

Research by search and content optimisation leader, Searchmetrics, also now reveals that leading supermarket sites that perform well in desktop searches also still perform well in mobile phone searches in the wake of the algo change.

Tesco came out on top, by some margin in the study, being some three times more visible in mobile search than its nearest rival Asda. Others, such as Lidl and Iceland – and even Sainsbury’s – fared less well, but were by no means hammered by the change.

“When Google announced its mobile-friendly update, there was speculation about the major impact it could potentially have on brands. However, our analysis indicates that the effect has not been significant on the leading supermarket retail sites we included in the research. Probably because they made sure their sites were already well optimised for mobile phones,” explained Marcus Tober, CTO and founder of Searchmetrics. “It’s likely that some smaller sites who have not invested in the mobile user experience of their pages will have seen a drop in search performance and traffic from mobile phones.”

The changes to how the algo works clearly aren’t nearly as severe as many predicted, however, it is more likely that this is just the first step towards really upping the ante when it comes to ‘encouraging’ website owners to become mobile-friendly.

COOKIEGEDDON

There is now another threat lurking in the wings: cookie blocking. While Google is doing its level best to up website owner’s game when it comes to mobile, Apple is doing its bit to ‘protect’ consumers by going all out to block cookies, pop-ups and other marketing techniques in the next iteration of its Safari browser.

Where many were worried that their sites may not appear high up in Google searches on mobile if they weren’t mobile optimised, Apple’s move towards, what is inevitably being called “Browsergeddon” – and “cookiegeddon” and “Cookie Armageddon” – is worrying as it will effectively block a vital mobile marketing channel for many retailers and merchants.

‘Browsergeddon’ may well force many companies to rethink how they market through mobile (and online for that matter), but just as with Google’s drive to make merchants more mobile-friendly, this may not necessarily be a bad thing. Cookies are an effective way to track people, but they are pretty old hat. Pop-ups are just annoying. On mobile, both these things are extremely detrimental to UX, so perhaps it’s time that marketing was rethought.

After all, there are many other ways to tap into mobile users with their location and push messages and even, dare I say it, text.

This, and a move to make all sites mobile friendly, can only make it more likely that consumers will use their mobiles to shop and buy, not less and that is what we all want. The end of the world as we know it doesn’t have to necessarily be a bad thing.

There are some simple things you can do to make your site mobile-friendly in Google’s eyes. Paul Skeldon runs through ten top tips online at http://etail.li/53mobile.




Additional Information:

Mobilising the IRUK 500

When the IRUK 500 Mobile report was released in March 2015, 80% of the Top500 used the Viewport Meta tag on their sites. As of late June, 89% now use the standard, which tells a mobile browser how to render a page on a smaller screen. No doubt the 9% improvement – equivalent to 45 ecommerce websites – is largely the result of mobilegeddon’s punitive incentives.

There’s a clear difference in performance of the mobile web compared to desktop web, with mobile versions of Top500 websites taking seven seconds longer, on average, to load than the desktop versions, according to recent research in the IRUK’s Customer Experience report. There’s a crucial element of how pages load which isn’t captured by these figures, though. Pages should be interactive or at least readable before they’ve fully loaded.




MAKING YOUR SITE MOBILE FRIENDLY

There are some simple things you can do to make your site mobile-friendly in Google’s eyes (though you should have done this already). Here are 10 top tips.

1) Check your CMS/web host - If you are using a third party CMS or web host, you probably already have a mobile friendly version of your site through them. Turn it on

2) Turn off auto-capitalise and autocorrect in any forms you have – otherwise this will change people’s names and mess about with all sorts of things as they try to type in information on the mobile version of your site.

3) Don’t disable submit buttons – many websites are set up so that multiple clicks on submit buttons don’t work. You need to turn this off for mobile as often it doesn’t work first time because of network issues.

4) Use standard fonts – Try and stick to using standard well known fonts as phones have a more limited repertoire of fonts built in. This is becoming less of a problem as smartphones become more sophisticated, but still avoid customer fonts as they may not render very well or at all.

5) Less is more – especially when it comes to text – make sure you have simple, clear, punchy text.

6) Images – you need to use good images to make all versions of your sites look good, but consider their size as they have to be downloaded over sometimes rubbish networks, but also have to look good on your main site when viewed over superfast broadband.

7) Video - Video is really key to an engaging and rich experience for users and increasingly they expect it more and more. However, this can be challenging for mobile versions of sites. So, embed video links from somewhere else – let YouTube or Vimeo do the hosting. They will also detect what device is trying to view the video through your site links and will adapt it accordingly. But don’t rely on video as it may not play over poor networks so don’t make it the main stay of your site.

8) Buttons – Mobile needs to have buttons that can be clicked with fingers. Not meece/mice/mouses. So you have to design the buttons accordingly to work for fingers: make them big, clear, and well spaced.

9) Scrolling – the day of ‘below the fold’ on websites is dead (even on a PC), people now expect the infinite scroll, so design your site to scroll. But make sure it loads fast (see above points).

10) The grid – There is a propensity among ecommerce site templates to simply create a grid of products. Boring, and not very mobile-friendly. While ‘shopping the grid’ was cool a couple of years ago, now everyone does it, it looks poor and it isn’t very mobile friendly – especially when clicking throws up a pop-up light box. Think of new ways to display.
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