What Google’s new, separate mobile search index implies for travel
Last week’s announcement that Google will create separate indexes for mobile and desktop results— and will be treating mobile as the primary index — is the inevitable conclusion of the company’s protracted pivot towards becoming a “mobile-first” search engine.
NB This is a viewpoint by Matthew Barker, head of strategy at I&ITravelMedia.
The news of a mobile search index comes hot on the heels of a series of updates, kicking off with “Mobilegeddon” earlier last year, the introduction of Accelerated Mobile Pages and a number of other changes to the way Google handles mobile search results.
The full implications will only be known once the rollout is complete and the SEO boffins can reverse engineer what’s going on. But on a macro level these moves seem like a strategic attempt by Google to defend its place in a rapidly changing mobile ecosystem.
This is a clear signal that we need to be thinking about mobile SEO as a unique channel in its own right.
Much the same way that longtail SEO and ‘regular’ SEO are two very different animals, mobile SEO is becoming a standalone traffic source that will need to be measured and optimised independently of desktop SEO.
Understanding this difference is at the heart of a robust mobile strategy. What do your mobile visitors want from your website, and how does that differ to desktop SEO?
This is particularly tricky with travel consumers, as Google reports that people use different devices during different stages of the purchase decision.
Some businesses find that users will browse travel inspiration and trip planning content from a mobile, but usually return to complete a transaction from their desktop. Others might see a much higher balance of bookings and transactions completed from mobile.
Knowing your customer and understanding their preferences is key to finding the right mobile SEO strategy.
Getting ready for a mobile-first Google
Having a mobile or responsive site is no longer optional. Site owners now need to be thinking about whether their mobile site is properly structured for mobile SEO.
For instance, many mobile sites hide content, navigation and internal links that are otherwise visible on the full desktop version. As Google crawls the mobile version of your site, anything that isn’t visible could end up being removed from the mobile index.
As for ranking signals, it’s a safe bet that at least some of the following will become important in the new mobile-only index:
Page speed: A big part of the mobile user experience, Google has long used site speed as a ranking factor and this will undoubtedly continue into the new mobile index, with a new emphasis on mobile speed and usability.
Google provides a tool for webmasters to test and optimise their page speed. It would be wise to review your site’s scores and fix any major problems.
Accelerated Mobile Pages: Google has also introduced a new standard for mobile-friendly pages, called Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). This is a markup that strips out much of a page’s original code to render the content faster for mobile users.
AMP has been aimed mostly at publishers and news sites, but expect to see support for other page types — including product listings — before too long.
Many publishers have reported a significant boost to their mobile traffic since adopting AMP.
It’s worth noting that using AMP isn’t a ranking signal in its own right, but improved user experience metrics such as higher click through rates, lower bounce rates, longer dwell times and improved page speed are ranking signals, so there are clear benefits to incorporating AMP into your mobile SEO toolkit.
Adopting AMP is relatively easy, with free plugins available for WordPress and other major content management systems.
Intrusive interstitials: Given that Google has already announced a crackdown on intrusive interstitials (annoying popups that interfere or distract you from the content you’re trying to reach), we can expect to see that factor in the mobile index.
Google has put site owners on notice that rankings may be penalised if their interstitials interfere with the user experience, so this might be a good time to review your popup use.
Use all the available real estate: All this comes amid a wider shift in the appearance of Google’s travel results, with the search engine attempting to present as much information directly in the results pages as possible.
There are risks here for site owners, but also some emerging opportunities for travel businesses, such as richer review displays and deal signposting in knowledge panels.
Make sure your business information is fully up-to-date, both in your Google business listing but also with appropriate Schema markups — meta content about your business that allows search engine to provide “rich snippets” in the search results.
There’s little point second-guessing the full implications until they’ve happened, but it would be wise to review your web analytics and get a feel for where your mobile visitors are going, and what they’re doing.
Use this as an opportunity to refresh your mobile strategy and start to think about mobile SEO as a distinct channel — and one that is certainly here to stay.
Special Nodes is the byline under which Tnooz publishes articles by guest authors from around the industry.