Hang on to your Google rankings, it's going to be a bumpy ride

By Laura Haight
Originally published as The Digital Maven in the Upstate Business Journal, April 23, 2015

Search engine optimization is a mystery to most small business owners. But one thing is easy to understand: When I search for my store/company/business where does my website come up? First page, first three pages, top five listings?

If that matters to your business, listen up because things are about to change. On April 21, Google was to change its mobile search algorithm to give ranking preference to sites that are “mobile friendly”. That means that when people perform a Google search from a mobile device - smartphone or tablet - where you land will depend in large part on how accessible your site is for mobile device users.

With mobile users surpassing desktop users and search as the starting place for most internet research. Google is firmly putting itself in the mobile consumer’s corner. In a 2014 report, Google explored the behavior of smartphone users and their searching habits. Two significant findings relate to this move:

  • 72 percent of consumers who searched for local information on their smartphone visited a store within 5 miles.
  • 50 percent of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a store within a day.

These stats make a good case for a small business to maximize its site for mobile users. People who are searching for you are out and ready to buy. And although Google keeps its plans pretty close to the vest, you don’t need a formal press release to see the connection between the research and the changes Google is poised to make to ensure its search results are relevant to user behavior.

So what is a small business to do?

  • Go to a website set up by Google where you can plug in your URL and get a quick analysis of whether your site is mobile-friendly.
  • Got bad news? If you are a small retail business, restaurant or service provider, coming up high in searches is critical. So it is time to get an upgrade to your website. The Google analysis page offers some middle-ground steps you can take to make your site more compatible for mobile delivery, but ultimately this is a wake up call.

We’ve talked before about the importance of responsive design for websites. That was more than two years ago. If you haven’t updated your old website, this latest shift from Google should get you moving.

Responsive design is device-aware, determining what device a user is on and displaying the website in a format optimal for that device, automatically adjusting  for screen size, orientation and - in some cases - even bandwidth. Don’t confuse this with the old mobile website which stripped out all the visual elements from a mobile site to make it load faster and eliminate display issues on older cell phones.

A slight modification of this concept is adaptive design, which enables touch behaviors when it detects that the user is on a mobile device. The site look and feel hasn’t changed but it lets you interact with it differently, such as allowing you to swipe to move between pages or scroll through galleries.

If your website was designed by a professional and does not meet mobile requirements, chances are you’ve had the site for more than three or four years. You’re due for a change anyway.

Finally, I got to use Apple Pay. Thank you to all of you who responded to my call for help by identifying the handful of local businesses currently accepting Apple Pay. Boy, there aren’t many. Panera Bread, Firehouse Subs, Home Depot, Walgreens, Bi-Lo were all mentioned. We should start seeing new chip and pin terminals, which should also accept Apple Pay and other contactless payment methods, popping up all over. This isn’t just about using cool tech. This is about a significant improvement in consumer safety and security.

Have you bought your Apple Watch yet? Well you aren’t alone. Apple has spent more than $38 million marketing the product. And there have been a ton of press reviewes. But most reviewers are struggling to reconcile the beauty and design with the question: Why?

At prices ranging from $350 for colorful plastic to $10,000 for elegant gold and leather, the watch is pricey to say the least. But it isn’t this product that interests me. It’s the next one. Ultimately, the most important function this watch may fulfill is as a bridge to what’s really next. The next steps in artificial intelligence and passive interfaces — devices that provide what is needed before we have asked for it without our interaction — will be pressaged by the Apple Watch.

Remember the cameraphone. The first was clunky, heavy, expensive and took photos at a less than exciting .3 megapixels. Less than a decade later, the majority of photos taken are made using a smartphone at resolutions up to 41 megapixels. And the capability to have high quality phone in your pocket has changed society, politics and civic participation.
What’s the next disruptive innovation?