What is Google’s new ‘Mobile Sites’ exam, and what does it tell us about the future of search?
As we approach mobile-first indexing, there is little doubt that mobile is becoming the focus of search for Google – but what aspects are going to be the most important?
I have been meaning to go through the new exam since I caught sight of it last week and finally got to it yesterday. As I normally do with any new exam (at least those that cost me no money), I had a trial run through to see where I currently sit in relation to the passing score.
With many of the exams, the trial run has been enough to earn me the badge, but on this occasion I fell short (by only 5%, but nevertheless) and was surprised by the depth of the test and complexity of some of the topics.
While I have no doubt that the exam would be child’s play to developers, and some who are more fully immersed in the world of mobile – the process of studying the modules for next week’s retest got me thinking about what the test is and what it represents.
What is the new Google ‘Mobile Sites’ exam?
Ranging from the fundamentals to advanced concepts and stopping at most points on the way, the ‘Mobile Sites’ exam is a comprehensive quiz on the management, measurement and optimisation of mobile websites.
The ‘Mobile Site’ exam’s modules
1. Mobile sites and why they matter
First up come the basics and immediately Google succinctly describes what the search marketing industry has been working on perfecting and communicating to clients for several years – mobile sites are crucial to success, slow sites lose users and that UX is important for conversion.
In addition, Google makes the business case for UX – detailing the cost effectiveness of CRO endeavours to assist conversion through UX, the ability of positive UX to lower customer acquisition costs which in turn frees up money to spend elsewhere, and ability of small optimisation efforts to make big differences (the changing of CTA wording or colour producing 200% increases in conversion rate, for example).
2. Improving mobile site speed
This is, sadly, the section that let me down in my first run through. Heavily technical and unapologetically so, the second section deals with methods of optimising sites for speed.
Initially, the module outlines some tools to help developers analyse site performance and find render-blocking scripts, prioritising elements and resources for deferral and asynchronous loading and the importance of testing.
The study guide then moves on to explain a few key methods of simulating limited or intermittent connectivity and connectivity on various (–)G connections and in various places – and makes mention of the use of Service Workers and Timeouts to resolve possible issues.
The subsequent sections of the module deal with critical rendering paths and methods of implementing changes which can allow sites to serve a useable page to consumers within a recommended three second target time.
It includes sections on minifying code, reducing the number of fonts used, removing unnecessary resources, http caching and image optimisation.
3. Creating an effective mobile UX
This module deals with UX from a specifically mobile perspective – and will be more familiar to most people in the industry. It begins with a rundown of the pros and cons of various site design methods for catering to various screen sizes before continuing in relatively familiar subjects such as site design, navigation and other best practices.
It then proceeds to cover a number of CRO techniques – methods which allow consumers to convert at their own pace in a method of their choosing and as easily and quickly as possible as well as A/B testing and the importance of analytics.
4. Advanced web technologies
The fourth section deals with a number of the recent web technologies you’ll have seen in the Click Consult blogs over the last 12 months and is really where Google can be seen to be showing its favourite future path for mobile search.
The main technology Google details in this section are:
AMP (accelerated mobile pages)
Google presents a rundown not only of the benefits for a brand but also implementation techniques.
PWAs (progressive web apps)
These are Google’s best answer to the proliferation of branded apps – allowing for the same immersive experience and push notification engagement without the need for the app store, permissions or any of the downfalls of an installed app.
The Web App Manifest allows you to control how your app appears and how it’s launched. You can specify icons for the home screen and splash screen which is shown while the app is loading. Which page is loaded when the app is launched, screen orientation, even whether to show the browser chrome or not.
This goes into the use of promises, AJAX and a couple of things which are beyond my abilities (both to use and explain efficiently), but which your developers can use to allow your PWAs to display a working page without network connectivity.
These will need little introduction to most – virtually anyone with a mobile phone will have received a push notification at some point, but here Google defines some best practices as well as explaining the mechanics.
Finally, Google deals with payment integration, outlining the reasons for mobile purchase form abandon:
It then details its preferred option for the mobile web – the payment request API, the goals of which (stated in the module) are:
• To let the browser act as intermediary among merchants, users, and payment methods
• To standardize the payment communication flow as much as possible
• To seamlessly support different secure payment methods
• To work on any browser, device, or platform—mobile or otherwise
What the exam tells us
The exam is exclusively on mobile sites, with early modules focussed on their benefits over branded apps. What it doesn’t say explicitly, however, is that apps are inherently bad news for Google – if our favourite online destinations are available from our home screens, there are fewer using search and, therefore, a smaller audience for their ads.
With Amazon already a primary port of call for more than half of product searches, it is in Google’s best interest to avoid the online marketplace becoming a series of walled gardens.
Google’s interests aside, however, the exam sets out the search engine giant’s approach to ensuring that mobile sites are preferable for both brands and consumers alike. The exam’s focus on AMP, progressive web apps, push notifications, and asynchronous rendering all point toward a faster, streamlined online experience designed not just with mobile in mind, but mobile as a central consideration.
While Mobilegeddon may have been a damp squib, mobile seems extremely likely to conquer search in the near to mid-future and brands should be looking to design and implement mobile-first strategies for their brand quickly and without delay.
Click Consult’s teams of experts are proud to keep up to date with industry qualifications and are recognised Google Premier Partners. To see what Click Consult can do for your brand, contact us today.
[NOTE: Exam passed, 05/05/17 – some serious study required]