Smartphones have become a vital part of our daily lives; changing how we communicate, how we browse the web and even how we book our hotel stays.
Since these handy little devices make us always connected and have become our go-to gadgets to connect to the Internet, it is no wonder that Google is putting so much effort into making the web mobile-friendly. The next step in this process could be a mobile-first search index.
But what exactly is a mobile-first index and what does it even mean for hotel websites? In this article we explain everything hoteliers need to know about Google’s proposed plan.
From Desktop-Only to Mobile-First
The days are long gone when browsing the web was a privilege of the desktop PC. In less than ten years (since the launch of the first iPhone in June 2007) smartphones have become our primary devices for using the Internet and this is evident from how their share of web searches grew in recent years. In fact, Google announced over two years ago (in May 2015) that in certain countries (including the US and Japan) mobile searches had already exceeded desktop queries (Search Engine Land).
We now live in a mobile-first world and according to Google’s device study from 2016, in an average day 80% of all users use a smartphone. Even more interesting is the fact that more than one quarter of all users only use a smartphone, which is nearly twice as many as those who only use a desktop device, and nearly 4 in 10 of those who use Google, search only on a smartphone.
With the majority of searchers using Google on their mobile devices, it’s no wonder why the leading search engine is now prioritising mobile over desktop.
Image: How People Use Their Devices (Source: Think With Google; https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/advertising-channels/mobile/device-use-marketer-tips/)
Making the Web Mobile-Friendly
In recent years Google has made many changes to its search engine to give mobile users a better search experience; from updating their search algorithm to changing the layout of the search results page.
One of the biggest changes was the mobile-friendliness update (also known as Mobilegeddon) on 21st April 2015, which aimed to give priority to mobile optimised pages when searching on smartphones and other mobile devices.
Although this algorithm update did not fully live up to its name as it did not cause a massive disruption to page rankings, it clearly showed Google’s stance on mobile-friendliness.
Of course, Mobilegeddon was only the beginning, with a follow-up algorithm update rolled out a year later (conveniently named ‘Mobilegeddon 2.0’), and other advancements were also introduced since then, including Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project aiming to make mobile web browsing faster.
At the end of 2016 Google officially announced they are working on a mobile-first search index that could be launched in 2018 and potentially disrupt the mobile search landscape as we know it.
What Is a Mobile-First Index?
Search engines discover content on the web by sending out crawler bots (also called spiders) to gather information on web pages all across the globe. When these bots crawl a page, Google may add it to its own database, called the index and then display it in the search results for various relevant queries.
Historically Google has been crawling the web and indexing pages from the desktop browser point of view.
With the majority of searchers using a mobile device now, Google decided to address this issue and give a priority to mobile instead. They will still use a single index for all web pages and apps, but the search listings will be primarily based on the mobile version of the content, even for listings that are shown to desktop users.
When this index will be in place, mobile content will be indexed and used for showing listings to users of all kind of devices. Then the mobile-friendly ranking boost is applied on mobile searches to all mobile optimised pages.
What Does This Mean For Your Hotel Business?
Going forward it is crucial to put mobile users first and give them the same content and exceptional user experience as people using a desktop device. The best way to do this is by having a well-designed responsive website that displays perfectly on all device types without hindering usability.
In case your business has a separate mobile site, it is important to make sure the content and links on the mobile site are the same as (or at least very similar to) the desktop version so that Google can rank the page as well as it would if it crawled the desktop site.
Website speed is also something not be overlooked. Page load speed has been a search ranking factor for some time now and in a mobile-first world it could be more important than ever.
Adopting a Mobile-First SEO Strategy
It is just as important to tailor your digital strategy to the needs of the mobile user.
Here are some best practices to consider for a fully developed mobile SEO strategy.
1. Analyse your data to learn more about mobile users
When searching on a mobile device the user’s search intent and the entire context of the search may greatly differ from a desktop user’s. People often use their mobile devices to do the research (often on the go), but they make the booking on their desktop device at the convenience of their home.
Therefore it is important to analyse your existing data and get as much information on your mobile users as possible so you can better satisfy their specific needs.
2. Optimise your content accordingly
Create pages the mobile user might be looking for and optimise your existing content so it is tailored for them. When using visual content (e.g. images or videos) on a page it is also important to consider mobile devices as these type of content may not display well or could even slow down the page drastically.
3. Make the most of local SEO
Last year Google revealed that nearly 1/3 of mobile searches have a local intent (The SEM Post). This must be even higher in the hospitality industry where location is a key factor that influences decision making. The number of “near me” searches (e.g. “hotels near me”, “Italian restaurant near me”) have especially increased in the last number of years.
Claiming and verifying your Google My Business listing and having a standardised, consistent NAP (that’s Name, Address and Phone number) on your website and all local business listings (or citations) is crucial.
4. Mark up the site with Schema
Schema.org structured data mark-up can help search engines understand the content of the pages better. It can also clarify that the name, address, and phone number of the hotel listed on every page is, in fact the name, address and phone number of this property, which can further aid your local optimisation efforts.
Data mark-up can also increase the chance of Google showing rich snippets from the content above the organic search results, which on a limited screen space of a mobile device, is even more likely to stand out and improve user engagement.
Implementing schema mark-up is a very technical aspect of SEO and it requires some coding skills, but this is any area where we can assist.
We can help
Here at Avvio, we take a mobile-first approach to website design and also make sure that our clients’ digital strategy considers devices of all shapes and sizes. For more information, please get in touch with us today.