Saturday 19 August 2017

Forget mobile first: Google index move proves it's now mobile only

Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

Mobile first has become a common call to arms for anyone involved in any online enterprise. It's supposed to be a reminder that audiences now use smartphones first and browse on desktop later. But there's a problem with this yawn-inducing adage: as mobile continues to become the primary method of interacting with the web, it's becoming totally meaningless.

We're emotionally connected to our mobile devices like nothing before. According to YouGov, 82pc of smartphone owners check their phone within an hour of waking up, while 86pc of 18-34 year olds do so within half an hour. The smartphone is now the primary source of news for 30pc of owners, rising to 42pc among 25 to 34 year olds.

Desktop, by contrast, is becoming a work terminal. A recent ComScore report referred to it as a "secondary touch point", which now only accounts for a third of all digital time spent. The same report found that 65pc of digital media time was now mobile. By almost every measure mobile is now the main man. Last week media agency Zenith produced its Mobile Advertising Forecasts, which examines 60 key markets. Zenith found that mobile accounted for 40pc of internet use in 2012, but will grow to account for 75pc of global internet use by 2017, rising to 79pc in 2018.

And where the users go, the ad dollars follow. Zenith expects global ad spending to hit $539bn this year, for example. And mobile will become an ever-increasing part of the advertising equation.

Zenith predicts mobile will spike 48pc this year, reaching $81.3bn, which is slightly higher than its previous forecast. Zenith has also boosted its 2017 forecast for mobile advertising growth to 33pc, up from its June prediction of 29pc.

Mobile's ascendency is borne out across all markets. According to the IAB in the UK, mobile has now overtaken desktop. UK advertisers spent £802m (€905m) on mobile display ads in the first half of 2016, compared to £762m (€860m) on PC and tablet display advertising. That's an increase 56pc on the same time last year. While, recent figures from the IAB in the US were even more staggering. The 2016 Half-Year Report stated that mobile revenue climbed to $15.5bn(€13.9bn), up 89pc from $8.2bn (€7.3bn) for the same period in 2015. It now represents 47pc of total internet advertising revenue.

On this side of the pond, the IAB has just released its Mobile Audit Report, which audited the top media spending in retail and finance across seven European markets. It turns out that over 80pc of retail and finance brands in Europe have sites optimised for mobile; over half of retail brands and three quarters of finance brands have a dedicated mobile app; and two thirds of all retail brands have a functioning ecommerce mobile site.

According to ad tech firm Criteo, we've reached a tipping point in terms of mobile transactions. Its recent report on the state of mobile commerce analysed over 3,300 online retail businesses and 1.7 billion transactions across desktop, mobile sites and apps. It found that the leading mobile retailers are now seeing 50pc of their sales generated from mobile, apps are twice as powerful as the mobile web for generating sales, and that verticals like fashion and luxury, mass merchants, sporting goods and home have all enjoyed double digit growth year on year.

But the most telling indicator of the growth of mobile didn't come from any report or study - It came from Google's decision to split its web indexing in two, making the mobile index more prominent than the desktop version. This idea isn't new. It was first mooted by Google at last year's SXSW festival, with the latest announcement coming at Pubcon in Las Vegas last month.

Currently, Google has a single index of documents for searching the web. However, the search giant recently announced that it is soon to create a separate mobile index which will become the primary index that the search engine uses.

A separate, secondary desktop index will be set up and maintained, but it won't be updated as regularly as the mobile index. It'll be a second-class citizen of search.

Once desktop is relegated by Google, it may well join Betamax, the Apple Newton and laserdiscs on the scrapheap of technology curios.

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