Earlier this month, Google announced that it had begun conducting experiments to preferentially present "mobile-first" content in its search results. This is a big deal, as it impacts how companies should prioritize its mobile-friendly online content-particularly in global markets-in the years ahead.
What's motivating this shift? Since most folks around the world conduct web searches on their mobile devices, Google is adapting by slowly reducing the relevance of desktop website results, and increasing the relevance of mobile-friendly content and pages. This will make results more useful for more people, Google says.
The search giant’s algorithms will “eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site,” the company said, “to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.”
Translation? Mobile-first content consumption and commerce is the future. (You can learn more about Google’s pivot, and the recommendations it has for website operators, at the company’s Webmaster Central Blog.)
Google insists it's in the beginning stages of this process, and is prioritizing a "great user experience." But companies shouldn't wait for Google to institute these changes to embrace mobile-first best practices.
This is especially important for companies looking to serve online consumers in international markets.
Global Consumers are Mobile Consumers
The number of worldwide smartphone users is presently surging. In 2018, the overall global smartphone penetration rate should reach over one-third. By the end of 2016, six of the 10 largest smartphone markets will be emerging markets. See, it’s much easier and cheaper to deploy cellular networks than landline-based connections in these markets.
Increasingly, this means that the mobile web isn’t just the primary way many global consumers access the Internet—it’s the only way.
Companies that fail to serve global customers with mobile-friendly experiences (in those customers’ languages of choice) will miss the boat in a major way, especially in mobile-first markets. Let’s examine a few of these thriving markets: Vietnam, the third-fastest growing smartphone market in the world, saw 25% audience growth in 2015. There, m-commerce sales are outpacing traditional e-commerce by three-to-one.
Last year, China supported 574.2 million smartphone users. Experts expect this to grow to 624.7 million by year’s end. By 2018, the number should reach 700 million. China represents the world’s largest mobile-first market, but its smartphone penetration is still relatively low. Opportunity abounds. Markets in Latin America are growing, too. We recently analysed the mobile traffic coming to the Spanish-language retail websites we operate. It’s growing month over month. Further, Average Order Values (AOV) are quite high for some retailers: $143 for Mexico, $195 for Argentina, $186 from Venezuela.
Verticals such as travel have seen game-changing increases in the number of mobile-first customers. Again, based on the data we’ve gathered from operating translated travel and hospitality websites in global markets, mobile bookings have grown by around 1,700% between 2011 and 2015. In the past 18 months, desktop site traffic has dropped, while mobile traffic has surged. Mobile AOV is also slightly higher on mobile, we’ve seen.
Global Desktop-Only Sites Pose Risks
There’s another mission-critical reason why expanding companies should create mobile-friendly online experiences for global customers. We’ve found that translated international websites may be more greatly impacted by Google’s mobile-centric moves than American English websites.
We witnessed this first-hand last year, when Google updated its algorithm to preferentially rank mobile-site content. For users using Google search on their mobile devices, this "Mobile Friendly Update" helpfully ranked mobile and mobile-friendly websites higher in search results than desktop sites. This meant if a webpage remained optimised for large screens, it would see a "significant decrease in rankings in mobile search results." Ouch.
And that's how it played out for websites that ignored Google's warnings. Days after the Mobile Friendly Update was deployed, major brands such as NBC Sports and high-engagement sites such as Reddit saw dips in mobile traffic of more than 25%.
Websites owned by MotionPoint customers suffered, too. In fact, we saw that the update impacted mobile website traffic on international websites more significantly than on our clients’ U.S. English websites.
Examining the performance of 40 translated websites (representing more than a half-dozen industries serving more than a dozen global markets in nearly 10 languages), we saw companies that didn't heed Google's warnings about embracing mobile-friendly best practices experience mobile impression decreased by an average of 36%. Companies that addressed some, but not all, of Google's recommendations saw declines of around 28%. These were greater than the average declines seen on many U.S. English sites.
These brutal attrition rates weren't seen by MotionPoint clients that embraced mobile-friendly design practices. Mobile impressions skyrocketed for these sites. Some saw impression lifts of more than 40%.
Desktop versions of translated international websites may be more susceptible to the punitive effects of Google's mobile-friendly algorithm updates than domestic sites. Now more than ever, companies must adapt to an undeniable mobile-first future and offer appropriate online experiences to consumers in global markets.
Would you like to learn more about how Google’s upcoming mobile-first indexing initiative might impact your online business in international markets? Contact us. Our analysts and technologists can provide insights to make your mobile-first future in these markets a positive—and profitable—experience.