Google’s Change to Ranking Websites Based on Mobile-First Indexing Approach

Earlier this year, Google changed the way it indexes websites. Those sites not optimized for mobile devices will be penalized significantly in search engine rankings. But that’s not the only reason partners need to take an omnichannel, mobile-optimized approach to reaching their customers.

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In this report you’ll learn:

  • Why Google decided to move to mobile-first indexing
  • The ramifications Google’s mobile-first approach to ranking search results will have on channel partners
  • Best practices partners can use to create their own mobile-first and omnichannel marketing strategy

Content Summary

Google’s Mobile-First Rankings
Mobile Apps
Omnichannel Marketing
Microsoft Feeds Content to Partners

Partners need to take an omnichannel, mobileoptimized approach to reaching their customers, and not just because Google says so.

A major change in how Google indexes websites is poised to have a significant impact on how channel partners’ sites are ranked in the world’s largest search engine. Websites that are not optimized for mobile devices will be penalized in search engine rankings, to the point where it can doom any solution provider, integrator or MSP that relies of Google for customer leads or referrals.

The change, which Google started implementing in late March of this year, is just one of many reasons technology solution and service providers should be using mobile-optimized channels to interact with their customers.

As usage of mobile devices continues to supplant the desktop for everyday business tasks, channel partners are finding new ways to reach and engage with their customers by providing the information they want, when they want it and how they want it. Some gather it on various social media outlets, while others rely on email and yet others seek webinars.

The trend will only accelerate in the coming years, as Millennials account for a higher percentage of those responsible for creating the marketing campaigns, and more importantly, as they represent a larger portion of the customers making the purchase decisions.

In this article, we’ll explore the ramifications of Google’s new mobile-first approach to ranking search results as well as some best practices partners can use to create their own mobile-first and omnichannel marketing strategy.

What’s Changing

  • Desktop only (Your site is desktop only and doesn’t have a mobile-friendly version): No change. The mobile version is the same as the desktop version.
  • Responsive web design (Your site adjusts for screen size.): No change. The mobile version is the same as the desktop version.
  • Canonical AMP (All your web pages are created in AMP HTML.): No change. The mobile version is the same as the desktop version.
  • Separate URLs (Each desktop URL has an equivalent different URL that serves mobile-optimized content. This site type is also known as an m-dot site.): Google prefers the mobile URL for indexing. To prepare for mobile-first indexing, follow Google’s best practices.
  • Dynamic serving (Your site serves different content based on the user’s device. Users only see one URL.): Google prefers the mobile URL for indexing. To prepare for mobile-first indexing, follow Google’s best practices.
  • AMP and non-AMP (Your site has both AMP and non-AMP versions of a page. Users see two different URLs.): Google prefers the mobile version of the non-AMP for indexing. If your non-AMP mobile version uses dynamic serving or separate URLs, follow Google’s best practices.

Google’s Mobile-First Rankings

On March 26, Google announced it had officially begun indexing sites based on how they meet its best practices for ensuring that presentation on mobile devices takes priority over the desktop. The decision to make such a change was made, and announced, a few years ago, following a research study Google conducted that found 49 percent of business-to-business (B2B) researchers use their mobile devices to search for information on the job, even if a computer is within reach.

The findings of its research led to the November 2016 announcement by Google that its search algorithms would favor the “mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.” Google’s new approach to ranking sites requires companies to adhere to its recommended best practices for mobile-first indexing.

Even without the impact Google’s new ranking system has on search engine optimization (SEO), large volume system resellers and a growing number of channel partners are seeing the handwriting on the wall. While consumer companies started adopting a mobile-first focus many years ago, those who sell products and B2B services hadn’t been under the same expectation until recently.

“Over the past 10 years, consumer companies like Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble required sophisticated omnichannel marketing, but technology companies would hide behind the curtain and say, ‘We’re a B2B company, we don’t have to be sophisticated,’” said Bill Rozier, an independent marketing and revenue strategist. “Today, there is no longer any distinction.”

Large systems reseller Insight has started seeing that shift in the analytics of its own customers’ product searching and purchasing habits. Last year, online B2B sales from those accessing its website from mobile devices were just 4 percent of its overall business.

Although it’s a small overall percentage, it represented a 25 percent increase from 2016, according to Sara Robson, a senior online merchandising specialist involved with Insight’s e-commerce program.

Robson said the 25 percent growth is higher than a Forrester Research report that had forecast that sales from B2B mobile channels would grow on average 17 percent between 2015 and 2020. “It goes with typical industry trends, where B2C [business-toconsumer] is first and then B2B starts to catch up,” she said. “And now it is really picking up. So, I think it is crucial for B2B companies to make that shift now.”

Best Practices for Dynamic Serving and Separate URLs

  • Content: Desktop and mobile sites should have the same content, including text, images (with alt-attributes) and videos maintained in the same formats for crawling and indexing.
  • Structured data: Both versions of the site should have structured data, and the URLs on the mobile versions should be updated to mobile URLs and keep an eye for extraction errors.
  • Metadata: All titles and meta descriptions should be the same across both the mobile and desktop versions.

Mobile Apps

Rival CDW has a handful of mobile apps, and now Insight is in the midst of a revamp of its e-commerce sites and is creating a mobile site as well. Experts are divided as to whether a customer wants to run its partners apps on its phones and tablets. Even Insight’s executives were split as to whether they should go that route, Robson admits. “There was a little hesitancy all around … when we were presenting to the executives,” she said.

A survey of Insight’s clients found that 62 percent would welcome a mobile app that simplified product search, order management, reorder and replenishment, which helped convince the skeptical execs, she added. An SAP-Ariba B2B supplier whose mobile app was downloaded nearly 38,000 times as of late August, up from a small number two years ago, helped validate making the move, according to Robson, noting the supplier shared that stat with her.

“We’re doing a phased approach to this, but the idea is to be able to eventually offer a seamless user experience that we offer on our Insight.com site,” she said.

While CDW has its own app for marketing, Insight currently doesn’t plan to create a mobile channel for marketing collateral. “It’s not going to have any of that promotional marketing content,” Robson said. “I don’t think we’re really going to want to include marketing content in our app because we don’t want to get in the way of that efficiency for the user.”

The primary focus is on making sure its website is mobile-first. Rather than having separate desktop and mobile e-commerce sites, Insight is creating a common site that is mobile-optimized. The site originally was developed for the desktop and then tweaked for mobile, but the key focus now is on mobile-first.

“Now we’re going through and saying, OK what does this look like on mobile?” she said. “Let’s design our page so it looks great on mobile, and then let’s see what it looks like on the desktop. And then we’ll make tweaks accordingly. But design for mobile first and then desktop.”

Robson emphasized how critical it is to build a responsive website to improve page load speed. “You really want to have your page speed optimized when rendering from a mobile device, because that’s going to be a large indicator for that shift that mobile provides as far as the user experience,” she said. While that’s the largest change that Insight is making from a technical perspective, the company is also making design changes, such as placing calls to action above the fold so users don’t have to scroll down for them. In line with that, choosing concise but understandable wording is key, she added.

Omnichannel Marketing

When it comes to growing demand and revenues, partners should seriously consider an omnichannel approach to marketing. Experts say consistency is key. “Today, if you can’t tell that story in six or seven different mediums, your brand will suffer, your interaction with your customers will suffer,” Rozier said. “Channels just have to be consistent.”

Rozier gives a reminder that customers have the upper hand. “A customer can gravitate toward the way they want to receive information, not the way you want to tell the story,” he said. “Storytelling in general has become knowledge transfer, and that story telling has to go across an incredible number of mediums to be seamless so that the brand itself looks robust.”

Sharing that view is Eric Rabinowitz, CEO of Nurture Marketing, as well as president of New Jersey’s International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) chapter. “When you have all these channels out, consistency is critical,” Rabinowitz said.

Keeping the story consistent is one thing, but keeping in mind the nuances of mobile and the channels associated with it is another, warned Casey Freymuth, managing partner of BuzzTheory Strategies, a digital marketing and content firm that works with technology providers.

“One dynamic to keep in mind when syndicating outbound content across all your device channels is that ‘short and sweet’ messaging with clickfor-more options works on all platforms, but lengthier content in your outbound messaging generally does not play well on mobile,” Freymuth said. “Always remember that your prospects and customers are just like you — they’re overloaded with content — so adapting your marketing pitches to mobile users can make you a better marketer overall.”

Dynamic Marketing
Dynamic Marketing

Perhaps the biggest decision partners must make is how to create that consistent message. The good news is there are more choices focused on B2B marketing than ever.

Major distributors and vendors such as Citrix, Cisco, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Microsoft, Veeam and VMware, among others, provide hosted, preformatted resources within their partner portals. Most of these have taken care of the heavy lifting — for example, they’re preformatted for all browsers, mobile platforms and device form factors.

“Some vendors are beginning to offer resources as part of their marketing portals,” said Karl Joseph Ufert, president of Mitra Creative. In addition to hosting landing pages with CTAs and data capture forms, they include utilities for capturing visitor data on content downloads of gated/non-gated PDFs of white papers, ebooks, video and rich media content.

Partners can choose from a variety of solutions that offer marketing automation to their sites, such as ActOn, ClickDimensions, SharpSpring, Zift, HubSpot and Marketo. Others, such as ContentMX and StructuredWeb, are specific omnichannel marketing platforms for channel partners.

ContentMX is a hosted platform designed specifically to provide omnichannel marketing for vendors and distributors to enable their channel partners to deliver information to their customers. It functions as a content marketing platform that can create and deliver newsletters, curated content, custom material, microsites and sales intelligence reports.

Omnichannel Content
Omnichannel Content

The company’s customers are typically large vendors and distributors, including Arrow, Citrix, Commvault, Ingram Micro, Microsoft and Synnex. “The vendors pay for it, and the partners get to leverage it,” said Jeff Mesnik, ContentMX’s president. “Everything is templated for them so that they don’t have to worry too much about anything else. Every landing page that we develop has customizations where the partner can put their banner and their logo, but everything else is preset so that it looks friendly on every device.”

Mesnik added that the platform provides a vault where stored articles from a partner’s website also fit to that mold. “Sometimes people will post content that we have, and we’ll go to the right landing page,” he said. When creating newsletters, it can pull content from RSS feeds, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Vimeo and Google search results.

It can also publish to those feeds and offer search engine optimization, and it has lead generation tools. Partners can integrate ContentMX with marketing automation tools including ActOn, Constant Contact, ExactTarget, HubSpot, iContact, MailChimp, Marketo, Oracle Eloqua and Vertical Response.

Microsoft Feeds Content to Partners

Microsoft started offering ContentMX to its partners in June of last year in a pilot with 50 preselected partners. In February, the pilot grew to 650 partners, and the company has recently made it available to all partners in the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN).

As of early September, 1,300 partners had started using it as well its strategic distribution partners, who are white-labeling the platform and providing the service to their partner channels, said Cydney Hoffnagle, business program manager for go-to-market programs at Microsoft.

“We have delivered new content to partners every Monday for 15 months without interruption; they have come to trust that this is a service they can count on to provide them with relevant, useful sales and marketing materials,” Hoffnagle said.

Partner posting activity shows an average of 29 percent growth, month-over-month, in posted items for a total of 15,800 pieces of marketing content shared, Hoffnagle noted. “Partners utilize their own social networks, or create them during onboarding, generate demand and capture opportunities directly from their own pages,” she said. “Microsoft does not handle, review or have access to the leads or customer information, so every lead that a partner earns is owned by the partner.”

While shifting to an omnichannel and mobileoptimized approach to reaching customers, content is still king, according to Hoffnagle. “When a marketing campaign is customer focused and utilizes storytelling to explain the customer journey, that’s when we see higher customer engagement and opportunities,” she said. “By providing great content through this automated marketing service, we just make it easy for our partners to utilize.”

Source: Channel Futures