Search Tips
April 23, 2015

How to Rank in Mobile Search

Driving Product Discovery and Organic Traffic

On April 21st 2015, Google implemented a major change in their search rankings. Their new algorithms are now largely focused on a single factor: mobile-friendliness.

This shift is reflective of a much larger trend. The e-Commerce industry recently hit a tipping point: last year mobile traffic became the primary source of traffic to retail websites for the first time.

In light of this revolution, it’s important to evaluate whether your mobile search strategy is updated and optimized for maximum discovery, organic traffic and conversions. As other retailers turn their focus towards mobile, are you staying competitive?

Let’s get started with some easy steps for maintaining and enhancing your mobile search rankings.

Simple Tips for Ranking in Mobile Search

In light of their new rankings, Google has offered a variety of tools for testing the mobile friendliness of your current mobile website, as well as individual webpages:

  • Test specific pages: Use the Mobile-Friendly Test tool to test whether or not Google registers a particular page as mobile-friendly (see screenshot).

  • Test your entire site: You can generate a more comprehensive site-wide Mobile Usability Report through Google Webmaster Tools.

Tip: Don’t just focus on mobile damage control; take time to analyze opportunities in mobile. Use the Google Keyword Tool and filter terms and phrases by “Mobile Trends.” Look for opportunities and areas of lower competition. Where can you rank better in mobile searches specifically?

The Importance of Apps in Search

While the vast majority of mobile search engine results lead to mobile websites, the fact remains 80% of all mobile usage is still at the app level (and this number appears to be climbing).

Apps are also associated with higher conversions, since payment is smoother and apps are more likely to have a credit card on file.

In e-Commerce, there appears to be an even more staggering upswing; sessions in shopping apps increased by a jaw-dropping 174% year-over-year—with a 220% increase for Androids.

So what do apps have to do with search? Apps are clearly amazing for fostering loyalty and engagement, but mobile search optimization is critical for facilitating the discovery of your app.

How to Get your Apps to Rank

1. Deep Linking: Allow search engines to index your app by adding consistent deep links. A deep link is basically a way to send users from a mobile web experience to a specific, indexed piece of content within your app. Here are some guidelines:

  • Add deep links to relevant mobile webpages and/or your sitemap for enhanced navigation.

  • Include deep link support (i.e. intent filters in your app) to define how to reach specific content within the app.

  • Get started with this step-by-step Google guide to adding deep links.

  • Remember: users can only get the native deep link experience with Google search if they are on an Android device. However, if users hit your mobile website from search, you can always deep link them to an in-app experience from there.

2. Verify your app’s official website on Google Play Console (this only applies for Android Apps).

3. Check for errors using Google Webmaster Tools, and correct them immediately in order to avoid being penalized in search.

Tip: Leverage Google’s deep link testing tool (here) to make sure your deep links work smoothly.

App vs. Mobile Web – Where Should I Focus?

These days, most large retail businesses opt to support both mobile web and app experiences, because they are hesitant to hedge their bets in one place. However, there is no silver bullet when it comes to prioritizing between the two.

Depending on your current objectives, the products you sell and the customers you serve, you may decide to allocate your resources differently than another e-Commerce brand.

Here are some factors and questions to consider:

  • Size Matters: While there are exceptions, there is a rough size threshold in order to justify building a mobile app on top of a mobile website. Building an app is a costly investment, and may not garner as much traffic or engagement if your customer base or annual revenue is too small.

  • Physical Presence: Do you have a physical retail presence? Statistics show that a whopping 82% of shoppers use search engines for browsing product information while in-store, and another 41% use mobile apps while shopping. Users who use mobile apps in-store also spend more money than those who don’t.

  • Repeat Purchase: Is your product commonly repurchased or refilled? Checkout and automation is easier through an app, so it can be extremely useful for initiating repeat purchase amongst loyal customers. You can also use an app for offering discounts through push notifications, and recommending supporting products as an easy add-on.

  • Intimacy with Products: Is there an intimate connection between your customer and your product? Do customers use your product regularly, or have a personal/emotional relationship to it? An app that contains product usage tips, blue tooth connection capabilities or how to’s can help facilitate continued use and loyalty.

  • Customer Demographics: This one may be obvious but it bears mentioning; depending on the target demographics of your business, your audience may not be as mobile-forward or as likely to engage with your app. Remember to tailor your strategy and budget based on your customer behavior.

The iOS vs. Android Question

Ah yes, the eternal question: should you create both Android and iOS apps? The short answer is “yes” (if you can afford it). There are several key benefits to both, which may help you decide where to concentrate your efforts.

Don’t Forget App Store SEO

Ranking well in the app store is an important part of being discoverable, both within the app store and in general search (since iTunes, for example, creates webpages for each of its apps).

Here are a few tips for boosting your app store ranking:

1. Keyword optimization

  • Do keyword research ahead of time to see what users are searching for (here’s a helpful guide to finding long-tail keywords).

  • Use relevant keywords in your description and your app title.

2. Promote your app

  • Make a push to get your app on review sites (here’s a list to get you started).

  • Experiment with targeted advertising on Facebook or through display ads.

  • Offer a discount code for first-time users to encourage downloads.

3. Ratings and reviews

  • Encourage happy customers to rate and review your app.

  • Address negative reviews through product updates. Do not game reviews (meaning, pay for fake reviews). App stores are good at rooting this out.

4. A/B test your app icon

  • Your app icon is essential for attracting downloads. Test your different icons with focus groups before going live.

5. Media

  • Your app screenshots and product videos should be of extremely high quality.

  • Make sure screenshots meet the exact required size dimensions to avoid stretching.

  • Upload the maximum number of screenshots, and caption each one with enticing copy.