Why businesses need to urgently update and upgrade their mobile strategy

by Avery Swartz,
Published in The Globe and Mail, March 25, 2018
Click to read on The Globe and Mail's website

More and more people are using mobile devices to browse and search the internet and small business owners must ensure their websites are attracting these potential customers.

Recently I asked eight small business owners to draw the homepage of their website. All eight drew their website's homepage as if it was being viewed on a desktop or laptop computer. Not one of them drew their site as if it was being viewed on a smartphone. My point was proven – many small business owners are not "mobile first" in their thinking about their website or their business's digital presence.

The amount of web traffic coming from mobile devices (smartphones, tablets and "phablets") is on the rise, while the amount of traffic coming from desktop and laptop computers is declining. In Canada, mobile share of total digital minutes is at 62 per cent, according to a comScore report released in March, 2017.

People are turning to their smartphones first for e-mail, social media, local maps, and Google searches. We have to stop thinking about "the mobile internet" as being different than "the normal internet." It's all the internet, and it's becoming more and more mobile.

Google is in the midst of a large transition to mobile-first indexing and has told website owners to get ready. Google crawls the internet and adds websites to its directory, ranking the sites for many factors. Previously Google's indexing and ranking was based on an evaluation of the desktop version of a website. That's changing – Google is now crawling the mobile version of websites, indexing and ranking the content and structure of the mobile site first.

This is big for website owners who rely on Google to drive traffic to their websites. Responsive websites (that have the same content regardless of the size of the screen it's viewed on) are fine. But, if you have a non-responsive website, or if there's missing content when your site loads on a smartphone, you could be in trouble.

Furthermore, having a website that displays well on a mobile device isn't enough. It has to perform well, too. There are many factors that determine a website's mobile performance, but the most important one is speed and page load time. Google has stated that starting in July, 2018, they will take page performance into account when indexing sites. What all this means for small business: If your website isn't optimized for a phone, both in content, display and speed, you're going to take an SEO hit.

What can small business owners do to keep up in a mobile-first world? Start with the computer in your pocket – your own smartphone. Load your organization's website on your phone. What's your experience like as a website visitor? Notice where you have moments of frustration, or moments where you wish you were on a desktop or laptop computer instead. Those are the jumping-off points for mobile-first thinking.

If you have an e-commerce website, go through the entire process of browsing for an item, adding it to your shopping cart, and checking out. Is your website accepting mobile payment options such as Apple Pay and Google Pay, or do you have to enter your credit card information manually? If you're noticing friction in the online payment process, you can be sure your customers are too. Make it as easy as possible for them to give you money.

For website performance tune-ups, run your website through Google's Mobile-Friendly Test, Mobile Speed Test, and PageSpeed Insights. If your results are poor, the solutions are likely technical. Talk to your web developer about why and see what can be optimized.

To help Google understand your business better (and optimize your "local SEO" for inclusion in local search results and Google maps), sign up for a free Google My Business account. Fill your listing with as much information as you can, including your address, interior and exterior photos, operating hours, and special announcements such as sales.

Business owners and marketers can no longer afford to think of the mobile web as an afterthought. You need to be where your customers and clients are, and where they're more likely to be in the future. Optimizing your website and digital strategy for mobile and embracing mobile-first thinking now will continue to pay off as smartphone usage continues to grow.