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Mastering Google’s move to mobile-first

| By Joanne Christie | Reading Time: 5 minutes
Mobile has long been high on Google’s agenda, but the launch of a new mobile index that will become the primary index points to a focus marketers can’t ignore, says Corey Padveen.

Mobile has long been high on Google’s agenda, but the launch of a new mobile index that will become the primary index points to an overwhelming focus marketers can’t ignore, says Corey Padveen.

One of the toughest things to do as a marketer is keep up with the constantly evolving landscape of Google’s search index.

With more than 500 updates a year, there are multiple changes taking places on the engine every single day.

While some of these changes are unnoticeable and don’t make much of an impact on your search rankings — if any — there are some that shake the very foundation on which you’ve been building your search rankings for years.

Examples of this include the introductions of Penguin, Panda, RankBrain and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs), and now Google’s latest change means the majority of your efforts need to be mobile-first, if they aren’t already.

In October, Google introduced its latest move to highlight the importance of mobile when it announced that a new, separate mobile index would be created for searches.

That’s already pretty big news considering how much weight that puts on the mobile optimisation of your website and content.

To add to that, Google has indicated that this mobile index would become Google’s primary search index.

That’s not to say that the desktop index will become obsolete (yet) but it does mean that updates will affect mobile first, and that desktop updates will be less frequent, making the index less relevant in the long run.

Following what is undoubtedly the biggest move to mobile-first to date, marketers need to be asking themselves two questions.

First, are you focusing as much on mobile as you should be, not just for Google’s sake, but for the sake of your audience’s largely preferred communications medium?

And second, what can you do to optimise your efforts on mobile to capitalise on this fundamental shift by Google? There are a few tactics that every marketer can employ to ensure that all of his or her assets are designed with mobile in mind.

Test your website
One of the easiest ways to ensure you are ready for this change is to test the pages on your website.

There are several tools and technologies that exist on the market that will analyse the mobile-friendliness of your website, but perhaps the easiest way to verify that your site won’t be penalised is to use Google’s own testing tools.

Google’s mobile-friendly page verification tool can be found at search.google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly. From that page, simply paste in the URL that you would like to verify and run the test. The result should look a little something like this:

You should also go a step further and test aspects such as your mobile site speed. Users want access to information as quickly as possible, and Google knows that.

The search giant has put an emphasis on site performance in its search rankings, and it is all but guaranteed that with the mobile-only index, site performance will be just as crucial as mobile-friendliness.

Luckily, Google offers marketers another tool to test mobile-friendliness and site speed. You can access the tool at testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com.

You might be pleasantly surprised to find that your website is mobile-friendly and performing well. If there are issues, however, there are some steps that can be taken to improve your site’s performance quickly, and help improve your mobile search performance.

First, if you have the option to build a mobile website, then that option should be exercised. Building a mobile-only website used to be a major expense, but it can be fairly affordable now.

If you haven’t already invested in mobile, then you should consider setting aside a budget to create an entirely mobile experience for your customers that includes exclusive mobile offers from your operators.

If building a mobile website is not an option, then you should at the very least ensure that your website is responsive. These Google tests will give you a good indication of what needs to be done to improve the performance of your site on mobile.

As a starting point, reducing the number of plugins on your website, limiting the number of redirects within your content, and compressing your larger images or replacing them on mobile with smaller files are three tactics that will help your mobile website run smoother and faster.

Go mobile with your campaigns
When it comes to affiliate marketing, one thing you’re never short on is campaigns. For most affiliate marketers, campaigns have tended to focus on desktop offers, landing pages and audiences.

While the direct impact on search is not necessarily felt from your campaign efforts, your onsite content certainly has an impact on your search performance.

The more relevant your campaigns are to your audience, with content, offers and landing pages all focused on mobile, the higher your audience engagement stands to be.

Higher engagement, in the eyes of Google, means relevance. Relevance and mobile-friendliness mean opportunities for better search rankings.

One of the beauties of campaign and ad platforms is that they’ve adapted to the mobile-first approach. Now, you’d be hard pressed to find a campaign or ad platform that doesn’t offer options to focus exclusively on mobile.

But beware of a common trap; if you’re running a mobile-only campaign within a particular platform, ensure that you’re using a mobile-only offer as well as mobile-only content.

Test everything you use in a mobile-specific campaign to avoid broken links, pages that are not optimised for mobile, and ultimately, unhappy potential customers (that you’ll likely lose because of these issues).

Segment paid initiatives by medium
In keeping with the theme of going mobile-only with your campaign content, you’ll want to do the same with your paid initiatives (whether or not they are exclusive to a particular campaign).

One of Google’s major announcements in 2016 was the ability to segment your bids, budgets and content by medium. So instead of running a single budget or bid across both desktop and mobile, you can now separate your efforts in AdWords and with Display campaigns.

This means that close attention to detail can be given to your paid initiatives on Google, and it is a feature that all marketers should take full advantage of.

Budget optimisation is a pain point for many affiliate marketers. There was a time when you could simply throw any given budget at keyword-focused search campaigns and, so long as your returns were higher than your expenses, you didn’t need to worry all that much about strategy.

Now, with so much noise and so many options available to players online, there needs to be careful thought given to every one of the expenses you incur, and returns need to be measured on a campaign basis, instead of on the budget as a whole.

Why waste dollars on one campaign, when those dollars can derive a return if they are allocated to another?

A starting point for this kind of budget optimisation is the segmentation of your bids and budgets in Google campaigns and the practice of strategising for mobile as a standalone focal point of your program rather than a small component of it.

Work with mobile-friendly operators
As an affiliate, you’re likely to have a website filled with links and to be running paid campaigns that drive players to a specific operator from search queries.

It might seem enticing to work with absolutely every operator and every offer available, but the fact is that the majority of new players are going to be mobile-first players.

A lot of conversions for new players today are coming from social casino and casino app players. These players tend to be Millennials and they’re mobile natives.

This means that if an operator’s landing pages are not optimised for mobile or, worse yet, if the operator’s product is not optimised for mobile then the prospective player will likely look elsewhere for an operator that is set up for their preferences.

Do yourself a favour and work with operators that are also thinking mobile-first. The new wave of players will not settle for anything less.

Corey Padveen is director of global social business strategy at t2 Marketing International.

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