Mobile is the New King for Google Search:
What Does This Mean for Your Financial Institution?

By Chad Alvarez, Director of Digital Sales
Summer 2017

Google on iPhone

It has finally happened. The almighty desktop computer has been dethroned and surpassed by mobile devices for Google searches. This should not come as a surprise, as the install base for mobile devices is greater than desktop computers in 2017. What you may not know is the change to mobile supremacy occurred in 2015. With Google's search results now over 60% on mobile, the company has implemented a "mobile first indexing plan that could see the light of day by the end of this year" per Google's Webmaster Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes, while addressing the SMX West Conference in March of 2017.1

So, what does this mean? Should there be a concern for this shift to mobile first indexing? The short answer is no; however, the long-term ramifications for not optimizing a mobile-friendly website could hurt your overall SEO ranking. "Don't freak out, especially if you already have a responsive site." says Illyes. Google offers free tools such as Page Speed Insights that point out deficiencies in your desktop and mobile versions of your website. In my 10+ years in digital marketing, Page Speed Insights is one of the first tools I use to determine the health of a website’s mobile and desktop versions before I discuss digital marketing solutions to banks and credit unions.

PageSpeed Insights gives you a roadmap of exactly what needs to be fixed in detail. Google takes pride in how fast it produces results in its SERP (Search Engine Results Page). You may have an SEO rich site with all the right keywords and content, but if your mobile website is sluggish and not responsive, you may be penalized without knowing it. I highly recommend saving this free Google tool to your favorites bar and perform spot tests periodically.

PageSpeed Insights

What is the difference between a mobile site and a desktop site? The truth is, there is a limited amount of real estate on a mobile device. Desktops are superior in that department for a few reasons. They have been the main search tool since the beginning of Google's existence back in 1998. With almost 20 years of indexing on one device, writing a new indexing code specifically for mobile is the challenge Google faces. "The mobile web has fewer tokens than desktop. Content and links are more scarce." Illyes said. "Mobile sites don't have a lot of the metadata that desktop sites have. We're aiming for a quality-neutral launch. We don't want users to experience a loss in quality of search results. We need to replace the signals that are missing in the mobile web."

Currently, most web developers make sites with mobile in mind. What they have not done is place the priority emphasis on the mobile experience first when creating a bank or credit union website. Craig Simmers, Founder of Stellar Strategic Group has recently challenged banks and credit unions to experience the loan process for themselves to answer the questions: "Is this a positive experience?" and "Does our website make it easy for people to get to what they need and is the experience quick and efficient?" In today's mobile environment, having a seamless mobile experience can be all the difference between you and your competitors. The lifetime value of a new checking account or loan most likely will start with a mobile Google search.

So ask yourself, if I start working on my mobile website now, what do I need to do? Following are Gary Illyes' 3 main steps to prepare for the mobile first index shift:

1. Make sure your mobile site has the content you want to rank for.

I recommend financial institutions focus on their core products, i.e. Checking, Savings, Personal and Commercial Loans, etc. Prioritize which products are most important and rank from there. Develop mobile specific content. Think less copy and create content that is quick and easy to digest on a mobile phone. It's crucial to make navigation as easy as possible. Also, don't forget to test the mobile experience yourself to see how your customers will interact with your mobile site. High abandonment rates when filling out forms are a key sign that something is not clear and needs to be addressed.

2. Make sure structured data is on your mobile site.

Examples of structured data include numbers, dates, and groups of words and numbers called strings. Avoid posting an HTML image as those are static images that cannot be easily crawled by a search bot. This allows Google and search engines to easily crawl your pages for keywords, meta tags, and structured data. The easier a Googlebot can read your information, the better your search results.

3. Make sure rel-annotations are on your mobile site.

Ok, I hope I haven't lost you, but in simple terms, a rel-annotation helps Google's algorithm understand the difference between your mobile page and desktop page. Your web developer would need to add a rel="alternate" tag on your desktop to point to the mobile URL and vice versa. These tags tie your two site versions together so that search results are better synchronized. This also helps Google pull up the appropriate version based on the device being utilized for the search.

Do not fear as the last 2 recommendations are very primitive. Google plans to explain in greater detail what needs to be done when the mobile first index algorithm rolls out by the end of the year.

Ultimately, if you have questions or concerns about the transition to mobile, I recommend you contact your current web developer or digital marketing expert. It will be interesting to see how Google implements the mobile first indexing algorithm and the impact it will have on the mobile search landscape. We will be here to update you on any further developments from Google over the next few months.

Chad Alvarez is the Director of Digital Sales at Stellar Strategic Group, LLC. To learn more about Mobile First Indexing and Digital Marketing Solutions, please contact chad.alvarez@stellarstrategic.com or direct 410-823-2229.

1 Search Engine Land: Google's mobile-first index is (still) months away: Matt McGee March 23, 2017

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