A mobile paradox – Google weighs in

Google’s mobile search news is big, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

The search giant’s latest announcement that non-mobile-optimised websites* are to be penalised in its search results has caused a kerfuffle for digital marketing managers the world over. And rightly so given the importance of both platforms.

“With mobile consumers spending an average of 60 hours a month engaging with content on smartphones and tablets, the importance of understanding how consumers are accessing content across these devices is imperative whether you are an advertiser, agency or content owner,” says Mike Read, SVP and managing director of Comscore in the UK.

The year of mobile?

We all know mobile is important. You only need to consider your own browsing habits to concur with the above. This is the year of mobile.

That last year and the year before also had the same ‘year of mobile’ billing helps to illustrate the fact that this is clearly something the industry is still grappling with.

And by way of an almost perfect example, yesterday’s ever informative newsletter from The Drum dropped into my inbox with its two lead stories illustrating an interesting mobile paradox.

Mobilegeddon is nigh

On one hand Google’s algorithm update was billed as so ‘essential’ it warranted the phrase ‘mobilegeddon’ to appear in the headline. Then in the very next story it was suggested that Rei Inamoto, AKQA’s chief creative officer, believes the promise of mobile as a marketing tool has been ‘exaggerated’.

On one hand not having a mobile site could cause a marketing meltdown for your search results. On the other, mobile is overinflated as an effective advertising platform. So which is it? Well, unsurprisingly (and paradoxically) both.

Inamoto is right in that the promise of mobile has been exaggerated as there’s still a sense that it could be the saviour of digital advertising. Not only has that not yet happened (and might never), but to continue to wait would be to miss the opportunity that mobile presents.

Be relevant

The argument is not that brands shouldn’t advertise on mobile, it’s that they should strive to make it a relevant platform. The example from Inamoto is Uber –a global taxi company that doesn’t own any vehicles but is relevant on mobile by providing a great app.

But whether it’s a global sport personality, a cereal manufacturer or a retailer (David BeckhamKellogg’s and American Apparel are three of the brands tipped to suffer from Google’s update due to not currently having mobile-friendly sites), the first step to being relevant is ensuring users can see you at your best.

Imagine a broadcaster pushing out only TV content when 60 percent of its audience is tuning in on radios. In those terms, not having a mobile site is unthinkable.

So while Google is forcing brands to get on board, it is only responding to user behaviour and that is to be applauded. Mobilegeddon might not be just headline hyperbole. We need all the help we can get to speed up the seismic shift required to get everyone mobile. Perhaps more worrying is that it takes Google to say ‘jump’ before everyone says ‘how high’?

What are we fighting for?

However, it would be wrong to cast too many aspersions about marketers being slow to make mobile really work. Spare a thought for all the platform managers who are not only having to make the case for increased spend on digital, they are now also having to find money to invest in their platforms, which in many cases requires ripping it up and starting again. Agencies have to help make the case for mobile and solve the problem.

And that’s perhaps even more true in the world of sport given the nature of the way fans want to interact before, during and after the game/race/match both in and out of home.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Having spent the day judging the Brand Republic Digital Awards this week, the standard was high in the hotly contested mobile category suggesting that things are on the up.

There are still too many user journeys that end in a desktop site being served on a mobile device, but it’s less than it was this time last year and a lot less than the year before that…

*For those who might not know, a mobile-optimised site is a website that has been designed to automatically reformat so that it can be read and easily navigated on the smaller screens of handheld devices. This is Google’s announcement on finding more mobile friendly search results.


Further Reading