As part of its new mobile-first strategy, Google will give preferential search rankings to mobile-friendly sites (sites optimized for mobile devices). This change will have a significant impact on search results. Librarians and knowledge managers who make content available to the public, external researchers, funders, et al., through an organizational website must take this into consideration.
Ideally, Google would use a different ranking algorithm based on the device used for searching. Indexing everything on the internet is challenging enough, but it isn’t really practical to do it twice (once for mobile and then again for desktops). Therefore, to make their results useful to the majority of searchers, Google has “begun experiments to make our index mobile-friendly.”
“Today, most people are searching on Google using a mobile device. However, our ranking systems still typically look at the desktop version of a page’s content to evaluate its relevance to the user. This can cause issues when the mobile page has less content than the desktop page because our algorithms are not evaluating the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher.”
Google Webmaster Central Blog, Mobile-first Indexing, November 4th, 2016
Be assured, Google is not just experimenting with mobile-first. They will be deploying it, and soon. By experimenting, they mean getting it right. Google’s browser is one of the most popular and their mobile operating system dominates the market. It only makes sense that they would want their customers to have the content they’ve indexed easily available—instead of “frustratingly invisible.”
Have You Experienced a Mobile Melt-down?
A mobile site that has limited functionality compared to a desktop-only site can make you want to pull your hair out. The worst example I’ve heard of (just last week) is an airline’s mobile website that allows travelers to “lock a flight” via the mobile site, but requires fliers to use the desktop version to “confirm and pay for the flight.” That simply doesn’t make sense, particularly while you’re traveling. To add insult to injury, whereas people used to be able to get to the desktop site on a mobile device and navigate around it by “squinting and zooming,” the site now redirects users to the mobile site that lacks the function needed. Grrrr.
Google’s Announcement Forces Mobile Parity and That is a Good Thing
If more than half the people who visit your site are doing so using mobile devices, your mobile site needs information parity with your desktop site. Imagine someone sitting in a coffee shop looking for something. Like most of us, they are searching on their phone. What’s going to happen when they run their search? Keep in mind that Google will soon be ranking good mobile sites above weak ones. What will the coffee drinker do? They will look at the highest ranked results first. Then they may go to the rest, only to be underwhelmed. In order to reach your potential user base, you need your site to be among the highest ranked—not simply among “the rest.”
Google’s Strategy is a Forcing Mechanism That Requires a Full Content Portfolio on All Platforms.
Mobile sites that are all bun and no beef just won’t cut it anymore. So, what can you do? Adopt a mobile-first strategy of your own. Get your webmaster to ensure both your sites are equally rich in valuable content, and are easy to navigate. Better still, and likely for less cost, use Lucidea’s broad (and mobile ready!) set of solutions for museums, libraries, archives and knowledge resource centers, so that visitors to your mobile site get the rich experience they crave.