About Bridget Randolph
Bridget Randolph is an online marketing consultant and SEO specialist with London digital agency Distilled. A graduate of the University of Oxford with an MSc. in Social Anthropology, she is a regular contributor to various industry publications, writing for sites such as Distilled, Moz, and SEO Chicks. Her clients span several industries including B2B, publishing, consumer brands, financial services.
In her Learn Inbound talk, Bridget takes a look at the history of mobile search, how mobile search behaviour has impacted on desktop search, the growing significance of app content and developments such as AMP and app streaming within the search marketing landscape, and some thoughts on where the future of search could be heading.
- You should use AMP if you want wider distribution of your content and if a high amount of your traffic is mobile, especially if you make a lot of editorial content.
- Work on passing the mobile-friendliness tests: use the Mobile Friendly Testing Tool, Search Console Reports and the separate tab within the Page Speed Insights tool; to check URLs in bulk, use URL Profiler.
- Even though mobile apps seem to offer lots of benefits for the business before you choose to develop one, think whether your app would add convenience, provide unique and/or social value, offer incentives or entertain!
Hello, everyone. How are we doing? Oh, come on. How are we doing? Good. Yes. That's better. I want you to be excited, because today I'm going to take you on a brief little walk down memory lane. All the way back to 2012, which is when I first started really focusing in on mobile and mobile search as a topic that I was talking about and speaking about. This relic is a slide that I used to use to present with back around that time. Because it shows that even then, mobile was a huge deal. Right? So just to explain what this is, the little bar is internet data usage in the year 2000. The big one, mobile data usage in the year 2012. It was 12 times the size of the entire internet from the year 2000. So it was big. But we still as marketers didn't really know what it was going to be.
So this was the big question everyone was asking back then, 2013, "What should my mobile strategy be?" Around that time, I gave a presentation at SearchLove London, and the big take away from that that I sort of was talking about at the time was stop thinking about mobile as a separate channel. Because there's no such thing as mobile for the user. They just see it as another way to access the internet. It's almost like a different browser that you have to optimize for.
Sure enough, now, mobile is the preferred way that people access the web, believe it or not. I will come back to with some slides. I know it's hard to believe. But it's true. So how has this shift impacted the way we think and talk about mobile in the search industry? Well, back then we were talking a lot about design, about the questions of whether we needed a mobile website. "If so, how should we make it?" Obviously, it needed to be stripped back to support all those people who were using their phones on the go when they were away from their laptop. "Should it be responsive design? Should it be adaptive?" All sorts of questions.
Now, we don't really ask about whether mobile sites are important and we've shifted so far that we think in terms of mobile first design. Which basically, more than anything, it's not even a difference in what we build. It's more of a difference in how we build it, how we approach it. We're starting with the mobile and working from there.
Back then, we also used to talk a lot about marketing to people on the go, because that's what mobiles are for. Obviously, you wouldn't use it when you're at home with your laptop. Right? Whereas now, we talk a lot about the fact that over 70%, 80% of the time when people are using a mobile, they have access to other devices. They're at home. They're at work.
They're not out and about.
So now, Google talks about micro-moments, which they refer to as four key intents that people have when they go online, "Things I want to know, things I want to do, I want to buy, and I want to go." We also talked a lot about apps back then. Mostly in terms of whether you could use an app instead of a mobile website, and also about this idea of native versus web apps, a web app just being a skinned up version of what is effectively a mobile website. But you could put it on your phone.
Now, with so many apps... I think last time I checked, there were over a million in the Apple app store, but I think it's gone up since then. The big question is how do people find your app and how do we keep them coming back when there's so much to choose from and it's such prime real estate, that little home screen on your phone?
One last trend I want to mention. We used to talk a lot about showrooming. How many people here know what this is? Okay. Not too bad. It's basically when you go into a store, you browse say for a book, and then you buy it on your phone instead of buying it from the store. People were very upset about this back then. So we talked a lot about how to prevent that. Well, that ship has sailed. Hasn't it? But that's okay. Because actually, what we need to realize is we don't control user behavior. We can't force user behavior. What we can do is we can acknowledge it. We can figure out how to adapt to it in a smart way that will improve the experience. Right?
So welcome to the changing landscape of mobile search. This is a lovely picture of me when I got my first phone. Not really. It wasn't always like this. Phones used to be something very clunky, and you were lucky if you got a signal that you could make a phone call. Right? Don't get me started on texting, but then this happened. So around 2007, 2008, the first Smartphone comes out, or rather the first iPhone, I should say and it takes off like crazy. Just to give you some context on this graph, here where we're at, around the end of 2015, 2.5 billion Smartphone shipments worldwide, projected by the year 2020 to be at 3.5 billion, just that year. That's half the world's population, and that's just new Smartphone shipments. So that doesn't count people who already have a phone, but they're not buying a new one. So this is mind-blowing.
It explains why now, 52% of the UK internet users say that mobile is their most important device for accessing the web. Now, that's up from 24% in the year 2013. So that's important also to note how fast that's changed. That's doubled in two years. It's just going to keep going up. There's a very good reason for this, and here I want to quote someone named Benedict Evans. He's an analyst with Andreessen Horowitz, which is one of the top VC firms in the world. He points out that actually, this is happening because the PC is now the more limited, basic version of the internet, because all it has is the web. Whereas, your mobile phone can take photos. It knows where it is. It knows who your friends are. It knows how you're moving. Are you walking, are you running, are you in a car? It interacts with things. So it interacts with the world through beacons and NFC. It's very personal. It's very much tied to your personal identity. How many of us have had that panicked moment where you walk out the door and the door locks, and you realize you've left your phone in the house? Just me? Okay. Tough crowd. It has physical interaction with us. It's basically an extension of your hand. It's really easy to use. It's really intuitive. I think this is really interesting. It has notifications, which means it interacts with you even if you don't interact with it. Right? So just think about that for a minute.
Basically, this leads to something that I've called the "adaption waterfall." It's basically a waterfall effect. Technology advances. This impacts user behavior. User behavior will always impact on ranking factors, specifically Google, which is what I'm going to talk about tonight. Search marketers are impacted by Google changing the ranking factors. Right? But lest it sound as though we're just always racing after Google. Don't worry. There's a shortcut, because actually what it's all about is better user experience.
That's what all of these things actually come down to.
So what we can do is we can understand how the users are using the technology and how Google is sort of moving to serve that better. From there, we can get a sense of where search marketing is heading. There are four key shifts in how Google has been approaching this that I want to talk to you about tonight.
The first of these is mobile friendliness is a ranking factor. We've already heard a little bit about some of these things from Marcus, which is great.
Basically, this was a really big deal last year. So I don't know how many of you remember this. Yeah. This was almost a year ago today. Lots of people got very worried about it, because there was a big announcement and Google says, "Oh, we're rolling out these changes. We're going to no longer be letting you get away with bad mobile experience in the mobile search results." I was very skeptical, I'll admit, because from my immediate experience, I'd been looking around seeing actually a lot of people had made that shift to mobile friendly sites in the two or three years since I'd started working on it. But it did have an impact.
So there was a study done about a month afterwards, after this rolled out, that found that some sites had lost as much as 35% of their top three rankings within the first month after the update. They did control for this just being natural or due to other factors. They had not lost the same level of rankings from their desktop rankings. So that was an example of how that had impacted on actual sites. Also, there was another study done about
two months on that found that by that point, over 80% of the top three results were now mobile-friendly. That's a big deal when you think about the fact that even a year before, not even half of the sites online were optimized for mobile. So this does show a shift in how Google is treating these sites.
But it also points out an interesting thing, which is how much Google themselves impact on the search industry and on the web as a whole. Because Google announced that in the two months between when they announced that they were going to roll this out and when they actually did, there was a 5% increase in the number of mobile-friendly websites that went up. So this is something, they're not just changing search marketing. They're changing people's experience of the web. Right? This is big.
So more interesting, how do we approach this? How do we deal with it? Most basic level, make sure your site passes these basic mobile-friendly tests. They've rolled out all these tools that you can use to check. There's the Mobile-Friendly Testing tool. There are special reports in the search console. There's a separate tab if you're checking site speed to make sure your site is fast on mobile. Because some of these tools only work on a URL basis, as a little tip, you can use a tool called "URL Profiler" to check these things in bulk to save yourself time.
It is worth noting, actually, on that, I'll just go back for a minute, the ranking algorithm for that affects, and it assesses a page, not a site. So it will potentially... If you can't make all your pages mobile-friendly, at the very least just focus on the ones that are most important. That is something they'll be looking at on a page by page basis.
The next big topic, site speed. This is something Marcus mentioned. This is basically Google saying, "We have to do something about the on-page experience. Pages are too slow." There was a stat maybe two years ago that 62% of users would bounce off a site if they landed on it on their phone and it wasn't mobile-friendly, or if it took too long to load. So if it took, I think, more than five seconds to load. Google aren't the only ones looking at this. So we have Facebook Instant Articles, which basically loads an article or a news story very quickly inside the Facebook app. Interesting, because that keeps people from leaving. Apple Newsstand has done the same thing. So they take the articles from these publishing sites and they bring it into their app, again, keeping the user within their app and also speeding up the load time. Also, publishing sites that developed their own apps. So this one is an example of the Financial Times app, basically, again, speeding up that process for their loyal readers.
Google's approach to this is something called "Accelerated Mobile Pages Project," or AMP, which I think has been mentioned already. Basically, what this is, it's a set of rules for developing web pages and it guarantees speed, and it forces distribution. That last point is important. Basically, what that means is by implementing this, you are effectively agreeing for your content to be distributed by those people who support this. So think about that.
But basically, it's a skeleton HTML that's very stripped back. It's very limited in what it supports. It allows the page to load really fast and also to be cached by Google, which means it can be served directly in the SERP, in the search results page, rather than taking you to the website. Very similar to the Facebook example, where they serve that article inside the app, and it keeps you in the Google ecosystem, which is a theme we're going to come back to, just to warn you.
This is what it looks like in the wild. So this is an example from the Wall Street Journal. Over here on the left, you can see what it looks like on the main site. This is a mobile-friendly site, obviously. Then, the middle screenshot is the AMP version that the Wall Street Journal has put together. Finally, on the right, we have the version that's being shown from within that search interface, from someone clicking on it in a search result. This is what that looks like when it's in the search result before you click on it.
So how do we act on this? First of all, you need to figure out if it's even relevant to you. At the moment, it's mostly just supported for editorial content. That's because the technology they're using. In order to keep it quite lean, they don't support things like forms, for example, which is important for a lot of other types of web content. But you should use AMP if Google News is an important traffic source, if you make a lot of content, particularly editorial, if you want wider distribution, or if you have a high proportion of mobile traffic. Those are all factors where this will really come in handy.
Number three, mobile first design of the Google search results. Ooh, interesting. What is this? It's basically making desktop search more like mobile search. So Google is saying, "Actually, since more people are on their phones more of the time, we want their experience to be more consistent when they do switch over to desktop." What does that look like?
This sort of card-style format. This is an interesting one as well, because it's not just about making it mobile-friendly. This is about making it friendly to all sorts of devices, because once it's in this format it's very easy to resize, redistribute, send all over to all different sizes and shapes of device. With things like smart TVs, smart watches, you can imagine the demands of that can be challenging. So this is a move towards making that more possible as well.
But just a reminder, this is kind of what we used to see when we would Google things, versus what we have now, which obviously, these are desktop screenshots. But they're a more streamlined look and following that sort of card-ish style there.
A big change that happened recently that they've talked about in more depth is they've stopped serving sidebar ads, on the right-hand side of the page. Instead, for highly commercial terms and ambiguous phrase, they have moved to up to four paid ads showing up on top of that search result. As you can see here, for a page that also has local or even just any page on a phone, that's going to push even the position one organic result way down the page. So there's not a whole lot we can do about that. But what we can do is be aware of it. We can account for it when we're reporting and tracking on rankings, and trying to understand what our traffic is doing and why it may show a decline for certain key terms. We can look for opportunities to create that less commercial content and landing pages that will bring in traffic higher up the funnel. Then, we can supplement that by using PPC.
Finally the fourth of these key shifts in Google's approach is around app integration with web search. So this is Google being a bit selfish and saying, "We're getting cut out of the loop." There have been all sorts of studies on how much time people spend on the mobile web versus in apps, and by and large substantially more time is spent. Some upwards of 80% is one figure that I've seen, of our time on our phone is spent in an app rather than just online. So this is bad for Google, because they're being cut out of that process.
So they need to integrate the app content with the rest of the web. Or they risk becoming irrelevant. So what they're doing about that is they've come up with app indexation. What this means, it's very simple; basically, we used to have sort of three broad types of content that we would create for our website. We would have our desktop version of our site, WWW. We'd have a mobile version separate over here, NDOT. We'd have our app over here. Then, we figured out we could link up the mobile and desktop. We could make it responsive and they share one URL. But app is still all the way over here. With app indexation, we're looking at the way through deep-linking and using something called "universal links" which is now supported on Apple and Android, the latest operating systems, it allows you to create web versions of your links to your app content, so that all of these different versions of your content can share a single URL. What that means is no matter what device you're on, no matter what context it is, it will always open the right version for you.
So what can we do about this? Well, if you don't have an app, you might not need one. The market is so saturated, it's important to know why you're doing it and not just throw it out there, because everyone else is doing it. So you can ask yourself one of these five questions. These are kind of the reasons that you might create an app. But if you do have an app, first of all, make sure you set it up to support web links. For more information on that, I've written quite a long blog post over on Moz about how to get your app indexed. Also, just to supplement that, there are a couple of checklists in this deck. I'm not going to spend any time on this now, because the slides will be shared later. But this is here for you to come back to as a resource.
Just throwing it out there, it seems like maybe what this is moving towards is something quite similar to AMP, actually. Because they're now trialing this thing called "app streaming," where basically they pull in the content and show it to you within that, again, search interface, without you needing to have the app installed on your phone. If that's successful, that's a huge step towards keeping them in that loop and preventing that scenario where you just have all your apps installed on your phone and you just go there, and you never Google things.
I'm going to breathe. Where is it all heading? Well, I don't know, but I have a few ideas, two of which I'm going to talk about tonight. So these are two key trends that we've been seeing across the search industry. But specifically, these two are very tied to mobile technology advances, thinking about that waterfall. Oh, sorry.
First of all, I believe we're moving towards this future of query-less search, which is kind of something Marcus referred to earlier. This idea, which Sergey Brin referenced back in 2013 in a TED Talk, where he said, "My vision when we started Google was you eventually wouldn't need to have a search query at all," which is crazy. But it's becoming more possible to provide less information and still get a good result, or even a better result. The reason is because of implicit query signals.
So this is a search query. Someone's typed this into Google, and we think we have an idea of what they're looking for. Yeah? Does anyone want to suggest what they might be looking for? A subway, yeah. So they might be looking to find a location of it. What else might they be looking for? Anything else? Anything, right? There are so many options. You could be looking up trivia. You could be looking for the history of the tube. What if I tell you this is what's going on? They're an iPhone user on the street in London. Yeah. That's what Google is trying to do with these implicit queries.
This is just a handful of the sort of thing that they can draw on, that can help inform their idea of what you're looking for. This ties in with all that personalization that's happening, where you see a different set of results than the person next to you.
This is leading to an interesting behavioral shift, where as we get more used to this being possible, we stop giving them as much information when we type in the query. So you might used to type in "local restaurant in,” I don't know, "Southeast London." Now, you just type "restaurants near me," because it knows where you are.
Here are some of the other places we get these implicit signals from. So wearable devices, like Apple Watch can monitor things like your heart rate. One of my colleagues wrote a blog post sort of theorizing about where this could go. It was called "Google Told Me I Was Pregnant." There are also modes of transport. It can now tell on Android phones if you are in a car, if you're walking, if you're riding a bike. So you can imagine if you're looking for restaurant ideas near you, if you're in a car that range can be much wider than if you're just walking down the street.
Another signal is hyper local context. So the idea being that with this sort of beacon technology, we can pinpoint your location so much more specifically than just somewhere in this area of Southeast London. What we can say is, "Oh, they're on this side of the street, near this bus stop." If I Google bus times, it can tell me just the times for the buses going on that route in that direction.
This one is actually just a mockup, but it's an example of something that could happen with the Google Glass device, where it can read signs. So this one, maybe you're looking at the entrance. This is a tube stop in London on the Piccadilly Line. It can tell you without you asking, "Yeah. The Piccadilly Line has good service today."
So again, less and less input required to still answer the questions that you're about to ask. So when we're thinking about how we can act on this, the big one is just asking yourself, what implicit signals could be impacting these people who might want to find your website? Things like, if you're a local restaurant, having those opening hours, having the location in structured data so that Google knows exactly where you are. It knows exactly when you're open. All these sorts of things are what could start being taken into account in this process.
That takes us onto this idea of intelligent personal assistance, which is kind of the most sci-fi of the things I'm talking about tonight. Basically, this is Google's endgame. Right? Their mission is to build the ultimate assistant. The way they're going to do that is by combining things. So we already know they have all this information in their public index. We also know they're trying to integrate app content into that. In addition to that, they have what's called your "personal index," which is any sort of Google account that you have. So your email, your calendar, your photos, you can search these things from your accounts. You can say, "Email from Duncan about lunch," and it'll show you what you have. If they combine these things into one interface, that allows you to basically have them say, "Oh, we know that your calendar says you have a lunch meeting tomorrow over here. Why don't you book a table at this restaurant that's nearby? It's vegetarian, because we know you don't eat meat." It's not just Google who are working on this. Right? All five of the top tech companies are working on their own versions of this right now. So we've got Microsoft Cortana, Apple Siri, and Facebook with M. They're a little behind the curve, maybe. That's my theory. And Amazon Echo. This is big. This is what everyone is pushing towards, because whoever can get it right first is going to win.
So from this point of view, the things we need to ask ourselves become a lot different. Instead of thinking about keywords and keyword research, we need to be thinking about the shift from, "I can rank for that," to, "I can help with that," and what a personal assistant app is going to be looking for in our content to know that we're the right answer. That is how this waterfall continues, and this is also how that continues to grow.
This is why it's becoming so big. So it's funny. A little while ago we used to talk in the search marketing industry; we used to have lots of blog posts going out that were like, "This is 2012, the year of the mobile." "This is 2013 the year of the mobile." Mm, I don't know. But my colleague I think put it well when he said we used to talk about whether or not it was the year of the mobile. Actually, we are in the age of the mobile. Thank you very much.