During the past several years, marketers worldwide have seen the share of mobile traffic creeping upward, to the extent that mobile now accounts for 57% of all web traffic worldwide.
The mobile-first mantra has taken over where mobile-friendly left off. What does this mean for marketers?
Mobile-first is so much more than responsive design, though; it is your offer, calls-to-action, understanding of user intent, and content types, too.
We have evolved from a place just a few years ago where plans to become mobile-friendly were acceptable to an environment where fully mobile experiences are table stakes. It may be the only experience your customer has, all the way from discovery through their decision-making process, transactions, and on to support and loyalty.
Let's take a look at a few of the factors driving this monumental shift, and what your brand can do to get in a position to win over these increasingly mobile, constantly connected consumers.
Consumer Behavior Demands a Mobile-First Mindset
When local customers are searching for products and services nearby to meet their needs, they overwhelmingly turn to mobile. In the United States, fully 94% of people use their mobile devices to search for local information, according to Google's own research.
Then along came COVID-19.
The Coronavirus pandemic took the steady pace of mobile commerce and online ordering/payment adoption and supercharged it. In April 2020, online as a percentage of total retail spend skyrocketed to 80% from its previous high of 37%.
Digital Commerce 360 reports that by the end of the year, an additional $105 billion had been pumped into US online revenue and the pace of ecommerce adoption had accelerated by a full two years.
Globally, the impact was even more pronounced. Even as discretionary spending plummeted, consumers were forced to overcome any misgivings about online payments. As stores were shuttered and citizens ordered to stay home in many regions, alternative ordering and fulfillment methods like BOPIS (buy online pickup in-store) and contactless delivery took flight.
As McKinsey put it, the global payments market experienced “a half decade of change in a few months.”
Now, brands in every industry are being challenged to deliver on these heightened expectations of mobile consumers — and of the search engines that serve them.
Google and Mobile
Google has long understood the importance of mobile. This was the driving force behind the Mobile-Friendly update in 2015 (dubbed Mobilegeddon by some for its search impact on unprepared websites), which boosted the rankings of mobile-friendly pages.
A second mobile-friendly update followed in 2016, and by 2017 Google was already talking about the impending transition to a mobile-first world.
Mid-2019, Google implemented mobile-first indexing in its search ranking algorithm for all sites new to the web, or previously unknown by Google. This wasn’t a separate index; rather, Google would choose which URL, whether desktop or mobile, was most appropriate to users.
Google has planned to extend the mobile-first index to all sites on the web in September 2020. Like so many plans, that was put on hold due to the Coronavirus pandemic — but only until May 2021. The full roll-out of the mobile-first index is now upon us.
What does this mean for brands?
Mobile and desktop searches produce dramatically different results — up to 80% of the time, according to internal research — making mobile-first a consideration further up the funnel than one might expect. It's not only a matter of creating the experience once you have attracted a visitor to your site. Without a mobile-first mindset, you may lose the opportunity to appear in front of that prospect at all.
John Mueller, Developer Advocate and Google spokesperson, explained that once the full mobile-first index is out, “...we'll still occasionally crawl with the traditional desktop Googlebot, but most crawling for Search will be done with our mobile smartphone user-agent.”
Essentially, desktop-only content won't be discoverable by Google at all.
Creating Exceptional New Mobile-First Experiences
Do not underestimate the power of page speed — Deloitte research found that a mere one-tenth of a second decrease in page load time drove increase conversion rates of 8.4% for retail and 10.1% for travel.
Bit dig deeper, too. Mobile-first means delivering a seamless experience from start to finish for mobile users — wherever that start may happen to be. It means mapping out your customer's entire journey and evaluating your brand's discoverability, and it begins with a deep understanding of your user's intent.