Google has turned up the heat on brands without mobile sites - agencies explain what its 'mobile-friendly labels' mean for marketers

Google announced yesterday (19 November) that it would introduce ‘mobile friendly’ labels on search results to indicate which links are best optimised for smartphones and tablets.

For example, sites which avoid the use of software like Flash, sites which auto-scale text, or those which have well-spaced links for small screen users, could receive the label.

Google said it is also experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal.

The Drum caught up with the likes of Mindshare, iProspect, Lowe Profero and DigitasLBi to find out why the latest Google update is important and what it means for marketers.

Ed Beard, head of creative strategy at DigitasLBi

It’s not the first time Google has stuck something in search results telling you whether or not a site is mobile friendly. But it’s the first one I actually noticed. And the implications are huge.

Most immediately we can all stop endlessly zooming out of and into sites, using the tip of our little fingers to try and tap on links.

Taking a longer term view the journey to total mobile dominance just picked up the pace.

Laptops, at least for leisure purposes, are typically reserved for a handful of purposes:

1. Those where you know the sites you need to go to are rubbish on a mobile

2. Those where you want to ‘receive and watch’ content – the YouTubes and iPlayers of the world

3. Those where a lot of typing is required

When people know which sites will be good on their mobiles and which won’t they’ll quickly stop going to the bad ones.

When it comes to looking at content Chromecast and Apple TV make viewing ‘content’ on a TV, and chosen on your mobile, ridiculously easy.

And when it comes to typing – well Siri’s not quite there yet.

What does that mean for digital marketeers? If you haven’t yet got a decent mobile site that’s bad enough. If you’re not planning on rectifying that immediately you’re in for a torrid time. And if you’re in the business of selling nothing but laptops it’s time to diversify.

Neil Bruce, head of mobile, Mindshare UK

It’s encouraging to see Google rolling out this functionality for mobile searches. It’s long been established that 70 per cent of customers are more likely to purchase from a mobile-friendly site, while a similar amount would leave a non-mobile optimised site if they don’t find the information they’re after right away.

Brands have been slow to embrace mobile optimisation, and despite IAB UK research showing that 90 per cent of automotive brands have a mobile-optimised site, other verticals lag behind. Perhaps this functionality will provide brands with the impetus to change.

I do have a couple of reservations about this functionality, however. First is that the system seems to be fooled by splash pages – for example, the website of my football club Liverpool is deemed mobile friendly, but the site itself is anything but.

The second is that the mobile friendly label doesn’t apply to paid search results. This is understandable though – Google will be unwilling to cannibalise their main revenue stream.

Jason Cooper, general manager of mobile, Integral Ad Science

Google’s initiative will help to drive the industry (finally) to provide consumers with a better service on their mobile devices. Audiences are increasingly mobile, so marketers need to be smarter about optimising their sites to accommodate users seeking real-time information and transacting on the move. In turn it’s a strong incentive to drive brands to action or miss out on being indexed by Google if their sites are not optimised.

Ultimately, by ensuring links to content are in line with the dimensions of the user’s device, brands will be providing consumers with a better brand and user experience.

Clark Boyd, head of global accounts, owned media at iProspect UK

This is a welcome addition to mobile SERPs for users, although not an entirely surprising one. Along with the possible launch of a new ranking algorithm for mobile results, it is clear that sites which offer a sub-optimal experience will start to struggle.

Sites displaying the ‘mobile-friendly’ tag should notice a healthier click-through rate (CTR); but for those not displaying the tag, Google has also launched a mobile-friendly test. So an olive branch has also been extended to brands which are a little behind the curve.

For brands, this doesn’t change the direction of the strategies we have proposed over the last few years. The statistics on the increase of mobile traffic are well-documented, but brands need to offer a cohesive experience that responds to user intent, behaviour and expectations across devices and territories, rather than simply transferring their desktop site to mobiles and tablets.

Gabrio Linari, SEO account director at The Search Agency

In the past few years, Google started ramping up mobile signals in its algorithm and the latest changes are happening at a considerable speed.

'Mobile friendly labels' marks a significant milestone since websites without a mobile- friendly version will most likely have higher bounce rates and worse CTRs from mobile users since they will think the experience will be poor on their devices.

The fact is mobile market share is getting exponentially bigger so brands/marketers need to be aware of that and if they do not have a mobile site ready yet in 2014, they had better hurry up and set one up.

I strongly recommend reading the article at Webmaster Central Blog (published on 18 November) that explains in detail what recently changed from a technical point of view. It will also help marketers determine if their pages/websites meet the most important criteria as detected by Googlebot.

Dayo Hazzan, business director, Lowe Profero

By introducing mobile-friendly labels, Google is embedding its search solution within the fabric of a user-friendly mobile experience. This undoubtedly will help retain mobile share, and potentially capture share in markets where Google is not the dominant search engine.

For marketers this is a quite a game-changer. Users will come to expect to see mobile friendly labelling and will quickly discount options that do not. This is just another example of Google doing what it does best – training humans, and the brands that chase them - to behave in ways that fulfil its own business model.

And it is no surprise that Google has announced an experiment to embed mobile friendly signals into their search results ranking algorithm.

Google's latest mobile development is perfectly timed. 2015 is the year where mobile search is expected to overtake desktop search volumes. By rolling out mobile friendly pages Google is prepping itself to be the preferred online gateway for a new generation of search engine users.

Jennifer Faull

The Drum senior reporter Jen Faull provides news and insight on the latest developments in retail and FMCG.

All by Jennifer