How Will Google’s “Mobile-Friendly” Algorithm Affect Affiliate Marketing?
If you're a retailer who depends on affiliates to send you traffic, their mobile-geddon is your mobile-geddon. Columnist Melissa Feemster explains how affiliate marketers and affiliates alike should be preparing.
On April 21, sites’ rankings on mobile search engine results pages (SERPs) will be significantly impacted (some favorably, many others not so much) by the mobile-friendliness of the website.
With smartphone penetration growing to 76% in the United States, and mobile e-commerce accounting for 27% of retailer’s sales, Google wants to make it easier for users to access websites that are optimized for the device they’re using.
There have been plenty of articles, tools and tips about how to survive “mobilegeddon,” but how will this change impact digital marketing channels, such as affiliate marketing, that rely on partnerships with other websites to drive revenue?
The checklist below will act as a guide to ensure that you, your networks and your affiliate partners are ready for this change.
Are You Ready?
First, make sure your website meets the mobile standards. This is very simple to do — Google has created a mobile-friendly test that analyzes your website and reports back on whether it passes or doesn’t. This test also provides suggestions to improve the mobile readiness of your website if it doesn’t pass muster.
Review your website’s current mobile performance in your analytics and reports. To be considered mobile ready, Google has said your website should:
- Avoid software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
- Use text that is readable without zooming
- Size content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
- Place links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped
Some of the suggested changes may be simple to make, while others will take more time. The good news is if you are penalized in the rankings for not meeting criteria, this is not a permanent mark.
The algorithm runs in real time and will notice when the changes are made, correcting the listings accordingly. In addition, the algorithm works on the page level, not the website level, so if certain pages are optimized while others are not, only the pages requiring work will be demoted in ranking.
Need a great brand’s site to check out as an example? Steve Madden (disclosure: Steve Madden is a client) saw a significant spike in both affiliate sales and traffic coming from mobile devices in 2014. These shifts helped prepare them for the “new normal,” and through careful planning, testing and tracking on their mobile site, they’re not only prepared but excited for the new rankings metric.
When we spoke and emailed about the subject, Mark Friedman, president of e-commerce at Steve Madden, told me:
[blockquote]Mobile is a major part of our marketing focus because of the age of our target consumer at Steve Madden. We know that Millennials use their mobile devices to research, purchase and share our products on social media. Being ready for this change has been part of our road map for quite some time.[/blockquote]
Is Your Affiliate Network Ready?
Do you know what percentage of your affiliate sales are coming from mobile devices? Is your network tracking your mobile transactions? If you are unsure, now is the time to find out.
If you have a separate mobile website, you must integrate tracking specifically on the mobile site. Ability to recognize and redirect a mobile user to the mobile site (or mobile optimized site) is important. And, as not every mobile user intends to arrive on the homepage, the ability to send a user requesting a non-mobile deep link URL to the equivalent URL on the mobile site will help drive conversion.
Ask if your affiliate network has the ability to track app downloads and in-app purchases, as this reporting will become increasingly important with the new Google rules. Cross-device tracking company Deep Forest Media (a division of Rakuten Marketing, my employer) anticipates that advertisers that are built for mobile will see a significant uplift in discover-ability and conversions.
[blockquote cite=”Naghi Prasad, CEO and founder of Deep Forest Media”]The algorithm changes will make investing in discoverability of your app paramount. You’ll want to choose marketing partners who can help to push your app downloads to consumers, and it’s important your affiliate network can help track to these KPIs. The ability to track consumer behavior across multiple screens will not only help increase discoverability of your app, but will also give insight to create smarter mobile strategies.[/blockquote]
Lastly, ensure your network is testing and tracking mobile activity across all iOS, Android and Blackberry platforms. With tablet and mobile commerce skyrocketing, cover all of your bases by reaching out to your network for information on what they are doing to prepare for the change.
Are Your Publishers Ready?
The rise of mobile commerce has introduced countless new opportunities for affiliate publishers. Their ability to geo-target and leverage smartphone and tablet technologies to engage with consumers has not gone unnoticed by the large retail players.
Some mobile publishers have perfected the hosted cart and curated product technologies and are a shoo-in for great mobile rankings come April 21. If you’re not already working with mobile-specific publishers, now is an excellent time to start adding them to your program.
Other publishers that aren’t mobile-centric should ensure their site meets the criteria listed above in Google’s test. After all, a mobile visitor’s ability to find your publishers’ sites listed in the search results can be just as important as their ability to find yours. Publishers should utilize standard mobile ad sizes, mobile-optimized links and optimize their site to match user intent and behavior.
[blockquote cite=”James Little, commercial director of TopCashBack.com, a Rakuten Marketing publisher”]Over 20% of our global traffic now comes via mobile devices. As this number is on the rise, more importance is being placed on the user experience when visiting from these devices. We’ve made some changes to ensure that we’re not affected [negatively] by the upcoming Google update and are excited about the increased traffic that this may bring to our brand.[/blockquote]
Naturally, this update isn’t limited to the United States and your international publishers should not be ignored. 55Haitao (also a Rakuten-affiliated publisher) originally failed the mobile-friendly test but worked quickly to redevelop the design on their website.
[blockquote cite=”Rick Parada, managing director of 55Haitao / Dealam”]Chinese characters allow us to show more content since one or two Chinese characters represents one word. This is one of the factors we took into consideration when redeveloping our site to be mobile friendly. Since a great majority of our Chinese users are on mobile devices, redeveloping the design of our site to be mobile-friendly was our only option.[/blockquote]
Google has said this new ranking will have a “significant impact” on mobile search results, and we should expect this change to make waves.
Though we have just a few days left until we’ll truly know how and which sites are either penalized or awarded as a result, there is still time to start on the checklist above and put your mind at ease.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.