This is no news to anyone, Google is well and truly on the mobile offensive. Almost every month we’re hearing of yet another change Google is making to search that will affect mobile and this heightened focus is of no surprise. There’s no denying it, mobile is here – what was anticipated to be ‘the year of the mobile’ is in fact the mobile era.
Internet usage on mobile is growing and growing, fast exceeding that of PC usage. With this, so is mobile search behaviour, with more searches worldwide now performed on mobile devices than on desktop and there’s no signs of this slowing down. People are changing the way they retrieve information and because of this, Google are changing the way they provide it, evolving into a search engine that answers, converses and anticipates.
Google’s focus towards mobile may seem like something of a recent interest but I’d disagree and say that Google knew about this growing trend long before most of us did. In fact, mobile has seemed like a big interest of Google’s for more than a decade and it’s not until you look at their history that you really get a good understanding of how Google has slowly integrated this, becoming the mobile centric search engine we use today (well, most of us).
Google and Mobile
Looking at key structural changes to Google’s organic search results and important events, we can get a real idea behind how Google has developed over the years to cater for the growing mobile demand. This interest in mobile started way back in 2004, evolving from then on, all the way through to today and in no doubt beyond.
October: The launch of Google SMS; a service that allowed users to search Google’s index via their mobile by sending a text.
April: Over a year after being launched on desktop, Google Local is introduced to mobile using the same index used for desktop.
April: Google first introduces Google Maps to mobile phones, two months after first being launched on desktop.
June: The release of Google Mobile Web Search, allowing users to search Google and be delivered the same results as on desktop.
April: Google takes on voice search by launching Google Voice Local Search, allowing users to retrieve local information by calling a voice-activated index from their mobile.
November: ‘My Location’ feature for Google Map introduced to mobile devices, extending location tracking beyond GPS.
July: Google unveil their first iPhone app that aims to improve how users search Google on mobile, available with the launch of the Apple 3G iPhone.
July: Google continues to develop their voice search capabilities, announcing a downloadable voice search feature for Google Maps on Blackberry mobile devices.
July: The ability to rate and review businesses on mobile devices is introduced by Google.
November: The newly updated Google Mobile App for iPhone allows users to make web searches from your mobile using only your voice.
February: Voice Search is first integrated into Google’s Android handsets, enabling users to search their index by using just one button.
October: The first signs of Google pushing for improved mobile experiences for users, with their first post on its Webmaster Central Blog on making the mobile web faster
(Thanks Wayback Machine)
April: After initially being launched on desktop in September 2009, Google Place Pages come to mobile results.
November: Google brings local results directly into organic listings
February: Google shares its first detailed guide on how webmasters can make their websites mobile friendly.
March: Google first releases its page speed tool which allows users to test mobile website speed.
December: In addition to the feature phone user-agents used, Googlebot-Mobile becomes able to crawl with a smartphone user-agent.
January: First announced change by Google to their mobile search results specifically. Results begin using final smartphone destination URL in results to avoid any redirect.
February: Google rolls out the Venice update, enabling them to localise generic search queries, pushing for really tailored search results.
May: Google launches its Knowledge Graph and moves from information resource to knowledge engine. The relationship and meaning behind words starts to become understood, marking the start of semantic search.
June: Google cements their multi-device compatibility initiative, announcing their planned changes to smartphone search results:
“To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.” – Webmasters Central Blog
September: Hummingbird Update! Google looks beyond short keyword search queries and starts to understand how people naturally speak and ask questions. The start of ‘conversational search’ is here.
October: App Indexing capability is announced by Google which brings app content into Google SERPs for Android users.
December: A new tool is launched in Google Webmaster Tools, allowing Webmasters to diagnose mobile specific crawl errors.
January: Separate mobile site owners first become able to review their websites organic search performance in Google’s Webmaster Tools.
May: An update is made to Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool which now provides webmasters with additional recommendations on mobile usability.
June: Google makes their second official change to the mobile search results, highlighting to users’ pages that may have faulty redirects in place.
June: Google makes App Indexing open to everybody!
July: Pigeon Update for local search rolled out by Google, helping to deliver increased quality and relevant local results.
October: Google improves resources available to mobile webmasters by introducing the new Mobile Usability tool to Webmaster Tools.
November: The mobile-friendly label is added to Google’s mobile search results, highlighting to users what pages are optimised for mobile.
November: The Mobile-friendly test tool is launched by Google, helping Webmasters develop mobile-friendly sites in preparations for next year’s big mobile update.
April: App Indexing announced as a ranking signal by Google for all Android users. Users without particular apps start seeing recommendations on apps to install regardless of having the app installed or not (a change from before).
April: Mobilegeddon! Hailed to be the first big push by Google for websites to ‘become mobile’, mobile-friendly websites start to see positive changes in rankings.
May: An update by Google to their Search Console allows App Owners to view how their app content is performing in the search results.
May: Both Android and iOS users are now able to open app content directly from the mobile search results when using Google Chrome on Google’s app, mobile and tablet.
September: Google updates their Mobile-Friendly Test to flag pages using app interstitials that covers most of a webpages content.
October: App Indexing in Google Search now supported in Safari.
November: Google announces that mobile pages using app interstitials that cover most of a webpage are not considered mobile friendly.
February: Google opens their Accelerated Mobile Pages project to everyone, an initiative created that enables webmasters to create fast-loading mobile pages.
May: A ranking signal boost is rolled out by Google, further benefiting mobile-friendly sites.
May: The new updated Mobile Friendly Test tool by Google is made available.
Google’s Mobile Search Today
Becoming mobile is more than just having a website that can provide a good user-experience (although that’s a great start!), it’s about making mobile an integral part of your multi-channel marketing strategy. When referring to mobile from an organic search perspective, it can no longer be generalised, we need drill further into the different verticals available within as they’re all ‘taking off’ and should all be seen as opportunities.
With the increased capabilities of voice search, the integration of AMP and App Indexing, Google are demonstrating a true understanding of what a mobile user wants when they search and so are crafting a mobile search experience that caters for that. So that leaves one main question, how are they searching?
Google never does anything for one reason and the introduction of voice search in 2007 in my opinion was when they started building their speech database. Voice search is certainly something Google has been anticipating, with their advancement in semantic and conversational search so early on, I’d argue that they saw this coming.
Although initially seeing a slow adoption rate, voice search of recent has really started to take off with 60% of smartphone owners first starting to use it in 2015.
It’s only recently that Google has announced further developments in their voice search capability, with Google assistant (hailed to be the upgrade to Google Now). Like everything with Google, they’ve got good reason for the development, with 20% of queries made on mobile now being voice searches.
I personally haven’t picked up voice search as well as others seem to have done but after spending nearly an hour asking Cortana pointless questions, I can see that although it isn’t quite there yet, it has the potential to become a substantial search advancement. Ask Cortana, Siri or Google Now Assistant, I’m sure they’ll agree.
So is it time to say ‘goodbye’ to the keyboard? Not quite, but it’s certainly worth looking into ways you can optimise your website for voice search.
Naturally when people type it’s different to the way they speak, they’re trying to speed things up so typically use keywords. Voice search is different, personally I can’t remember the last time I said to someone “ASOS jumper red”.
When looking to optimise for voice search, you want to try and achieve the following:
- Your content needs to read naturally, with the use of long-tail keywords as opposed to short specific keywords.
- You want to look towards answering the questions your user wants answering.
- Understand how your user talks, they’re searching with their voice. Once you know how they talk, you’ll know how they’re searching.
With mobile, speed is one of the most important things. It’s about getting the information you want as soon as you want it and then continue with what you’re doing – typically most mobile users tend to be seeking information whilst on the move.
Earlier this year, Google opened up their open source initiative to all webmasters called Accelerated Mobile Pages. In short, the aim of this is for websites to speed up how fast their published/ blog content loads by following a technical specification.
“Anything less than instant simply shows a degradation, a decline in engagement,” – Richard Gingras
Since launch, Google have started integrating and expanding on AMP, allowing recipe pages to now be ‘AMPed’ up too and the support of AMP in their iOS and Android search apps.
Although it’s just the beginning, the adoption rate has been quite impressive so far:
— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) May 19, 2016
If you’re producing a lot of content for your website, this is certainly something to be exploring. If implemented right and correctly marked up with article markup, your content can claim top spot search real estate through the AMP carousel.
Since first being paired in 2005 through Google Local, both local and mobile have been inseparable. We’ve seen game-changing local updates with mobile over the years by Google and from these, they’ve managed to position themselves as a core source for local information.
The growing importance of local with mobile is evident, users are showing clear signs of increased interest in discovering what’s around them. A third of searches made by mobile users on Google are now of local intent and the use of ‘near me’ searches are continually growing.
With voice search now becoming a bigger part of the picture, the importance of local search on mobile right now is just the start.
If you’re a local business existing without a mobile optimised site without local visibility, you’re missing out on a huge customer base. There are a ton of resources out there to help you become local, including this useful Local SEO Checklist.
Up until 2013, Google were missing a large piece of the mobile ‘pie’, applications. Before then, the extent of their ability to crawl an app was to index the landing page of a website that pointed users to the app download page.
It was 2013 when Google announced App Indexation capabilities for content within Android apps, since then they have developed support for everyone (nearly) and as of October last year, Google had indexed over 100 billion pages sitting within apps.
In practical terms, users are now able to easily click from search results directly into a deep link within an app on their smartphones and tablet. If the app is yet to be installed on the device it’s being viewed from, the deep link will still show in the SERPs but users are instead directed to the app download page. The ability for Google to list deep links within their SERPs has greatly affected search behaviour, with around 27% of people now finding apps through search engines.
Google are continually refining how they rank apps within their mobile results, improving how they evaluate apps and the filtering of app results based on the OS and the device requesting the results. Although in a race with Apple for the app indexation crown, they’re managing to position themselves at the forefront of app search and are influencing how other apps are discovered too.
Index Your App
If your business currently has an app that’s not being indexed by Google, change that. You want to be where your target market is and with the growth of app searching in Google, chances are they’re looking there.
Getting your app indexed involves four steps:
- Support deep links within your apps.
- Add Google’s App Indexing API.
- Test every change made to find issues.
- Measure the impact of your app in search.
There’s a great resource on Moz that takes you through step-by-step on how you can get your app content indexed by Google, definitely worth checking out.
The Future of Mobile Search
Although there’s no concrete signs on how Google’s organic mobile search results will change in the coming months/ years, there are hints out there that give enough away for us to presume.
These are all down to interpretation but I’d love to know where you think Google will be taking organic mobile search next.
As we know now, voice search is improving at an impressive rate, speech recognition error rate has improved from around 25% to 8% in the space of just two years, increasing the ability of such technology to clearly understand natural speech.
With the recent introduction of Google assistant, it’s clear this is an area Google are willing to invest money into and integrate into their search experience.
Where do I think we’re headed with voice search? I don’t think we’re far away from voice search capabilities that allow for complete conversational shopping, from research to conversion. Businesses are already showing an interest in conversational shopping with the likes of Dominos already having a hands-free ordering system in place, which has proven to be quite a success so it’s only a matter of time before Google gets involved.
AMP Ranking Signal
Most initiatives introduced by Google adopt some form of ranking boost, think of app indexation and mobile-friendly websites to name a few. While Google doesn’t use AMP as a ranking signal right now, it is likely that in the future this will change.
Brand Competition Through AMP
Although in it’s infancy, AMP is something to keep an eye on. As we know, Google are constantly expanding its capabilities and there are definitely opportunities to be had, one being claiming a crucial space for your competitor’s brand terms:
With AMP giving content a top spot in the SERPs if correctly implemented, there seems to be an opportunity to claim some ground over competition search space. It’d be interesting to find out if this is deliberately done or not. If this is no error, it’s definitely worth watching how this evolves.
App Indexing Without Web Parity
As of right now, to have deep app content indexed within Google’s mobile SERPs, there needs to be web parity. Simply put, for an app page to be indexed, there needs to be a web page equivalent that matches.
Google have hinted towards supporting app indexing without web parity, essentially ranking website and app data independently. This of course adds a whole different type of competition within mobile search – interesting times ahead!
Google is forcing change within the app landscape, with the increase of rich in-app content to achieve increased exposure in mobile search. App indexing is certainly something to watch-out for in the future.
How should marketers respond?
In short, become mobile. As mentioned before, this is beyond getting a mobile-friendly website, it’s about understanding the entire journey of your mobile user and being able to meet them across every mobile vertical they visit.
With a completely separate Google mobile index in the pipeline, as the past has already happened, now is the best time to incorporate mobile into your marketing strategy if you haven’t already done so.
In my opinion, out of all the major search engines, Google get what users want when searching on mobile, developing with changing search habits.