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    What Google’s Mobile-First Index Means for Ecommerce Sites

    If you’re one of the few who hasn’t yet compared prices while waiting in line or bought something while on the loo, you soon will. If you haven’t heard, we’re well and truly now in the era of mobile — mobile not just meaning your smartphone, but mobile in terms of mobility, portability, and freedom of information and consumption.

    To support this shift, last year, Google updated to a mobile-first index — i.e., to prioritising sites that perform well on mobile in its mobile search results. This year, it began doing the same for e-commerce sites. And very soon — no exact date has been confirmed — performance on mobile will be the baseline for how Google indexes every single site on the web.

    What this means for e-commerce store owners is that you need to be fully prepared. Even if your site already has a focus on mobile, it’s likely not enough, and updating it per Google’s guidelines will be a necessity to retain and improve your rankings.

    The Benefits of Mobile-first for Ecommerce

    From subdirectories and subdomains to responsive design and mobile-first sites, mobile web design has been gradually evolving over recent years. And up until recently, there’s been no one method or solution that stood out as the ultimate option for webmasters.

    Google itself even suggests that your website may be considered mobile-first if it offers either responsive design, dynamic serving, or separate URLs from your desktop site. However, it now also has put out the recommendation that responsive web design is the preferred method of all.

    So with that established, let’s now take a look at some of the main benefits of a mobile-first e-commerce website.

    Tap Into New Pockets And New Markets

    Not only does optimising your e-commerce store for mobile mean you’ll reach the pockets of millions (two-thirds of adults in the world will own smartphones by the end of 2018), it also allows you to enter markets you may have never even considered.

    For instance, it may open up geographical markets in which people have easier access to mobile devices than desktop, particularly if your business is aimed people on the move. Similarly, it may open up younger and more movement-orientated segments of the population, such as students and people who commute or travel for work. This can reveal opportunities for new products and services and help to diversify your business, making it much more agile and resilient for the future.

    Know Your Customers Like Never Before

    Much different to the traditional process of going to a store and buying something, the purchase process today often spans multiple devices and touchpoints. A user can go window shopping and browsing in-store, compare prices on their phone while on the bus, and then finish their purchase on their laptop at home.

    By making use of mobile e-commerce tech, store owners can track a user’s activity throughout the entire process — from the moment of discovery to confirming the purchase. This data can provide valuable insights into purchasing intent and user behaviour, that can be used to inform the design of your store and indefinitely improve conversion rates.

    Get Much More From Your Marketing

    Gone are the days when investing almost all your marketing budget on display ads or PPC was the only way to compete with the big players. Today, it’s all about personalised products and services delivered at the right time and in the right place — and mobile allows e-commerce store owners to do just that.

    For instance, with mobile marketing informed by user data, you can tailor your efforts depending on location, season, time of day, and intent. Not only does this mean you’re targeting highly receptive users who want your product, but it means you can also almost infinitely adapt and scale your efforts, testing different approaches and feeding in new data at will.

    Optimising Your E-commerce Store For Mobile-first

    If you don’t yet have a responsive website, then the following advice would be like taking a recipe for great icing and then using it on a poorly made cake.

    Once you have a decent cake, i.e. have a mobile-first e-commerce store, first, you want to run it through Google’s Mobile-friendly test. The results from this test will give you a good idea where your website stands and a solid benchmark on to improve and measure your mobile optimisation.

    Think Mobile First Not Desktop First

    It seems too obvious to point out, but it’s an important distinction to make as by mobile-first, a lot of companies think it’s about making a desktop site that is responsive and converts well to mobile. However, as taken from Google’s own guidelines, mobile-first is actually about designing for the smallest screen and working your way up.

    What this looks like is today and going forward, your website not only looks great on mobile but that it performs seamlessly and offers a smooth experience while on the move and out and about.

    Speed as Essential to Being Mobile-first

    The speed of your site is arguably the most important factor in making your e-commerce store mobile-first. There’s a number of things you can do — enabling compression, minifying resources, optimising images, removing render-blocking JavaScript, etc. — but if you want to make a real impact, then make the move to AMPs or PWs.

    Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) use a pared-down HTML that allows your pages to load much faster than regular HTML. This is enhanced further as Google stores copies of AMP content in its own cache, leading to even greater visibility for you in the SERPs.

    Progressive Web Apps are an alternative to AMPs that offer many of the same benefits while feeling like a native mobile app. They work within the browser and can be great for offering super-fast and immersive user experiences.

    Make Your Content Mobile-first

    If you have and continue to use a subdomain for your mobile content, then Google will base your rankings on your desktop website. This is a problem in itself — ahem, mobile-first — but can be especially damaging if your mobile content isn’t as thorough and accessible as on desktop.

    By now, though, you will have a fast and responsive mobile-first website, and you’ll be thus ready to tailor the design and content to be as equally mobile-friendly. For instance, by using drop down and accordion menus (Google states it will crawl all such hidden content on mobile-first sites) by being discerning about your use of pop-ups, modals, and interstitials, and by making sure your site is “finger friendly”.

    Finger friendly is a term that pretty much speaks for itself — it’s all about making sure there’s enough padding between elements and that they work on mobile, to accommodate for fingers both fat and dainty. On a similar note, you want to make sure your content is clear and your font is at least 16px, to accommodate for eyes both young and old.

    Designing For a Mobile World

    As mentioned earlier, today many users often move between devices during the process of making a purchase. Google estimates this figure at a whopping 85 per cent — highlighting the crucial and inherently shifting and omnichannel nature of mobile-first experiences.

    As it’s the place customers finish their transactions, the checkout thus needs to be light and easy enough to allow for this transience and quick change in mode. It goes without saying that this means making it quicker and reducing the amount of information required, but you can also help streamline the process in a few other ways.

    For example, one feature that can have a big impact on abandonment figures is being able to save the basket for later without having to sign up (using cookies). This can allow users to leave at will whilst encouraging them to come back.

    The same goes for using rapid payment systems such as Apple and Android Pay. Mobile payments tend to be quicker, safer, and more convenient for users than other options — for instance, Apple Pay now lets users make contactless payments above the general £30 limit.

    The Future of Mobile-first Ecommerce

    Already e-commerce stores are suffering if their websites aren’t responsive or ready for mobile-first. Research from Google found sub-par mobile experiences make consumers 62 per cent less likely to purchase from them in the future. Mobile-first is in a way, then, already here, and the quicker you make the shift and plan ahead for what’s over the horizon, the better you’ll fare.

    In terms of being prepared for what does lay ahead, e-commerce owners would be wise to start optimising their sites for voice search. From over 50s using Alexa for hands-free info to busy parents using Google Now to make everyday purchases, voice-activated assistants are playing a bigger and bigger role in e-commerce. And by making content that’s value-packed and easily digestible for mobile, it will no doubt also help with your rankings for voice search.

    If this all sounds a bit vague and far off, think featured snippets. Such short, concise information is pulled from sites that make a point to answer user’s queries without all the fluff and spammy biases. The content also typically performs well on social — all standard advice that if employed now will help take your mobile-first and voice optimisation to a whole new level.