Mobile-friendly isn't the same as mobile-optimized

When Google announced in February it would change its search algorithm to favor mobile-friendly websites, the move struck fear into the hearts of businesses. The algorithm, dubbed "mobilegeddon," had retailers and brands hurrying to ensure they had mobile-friendly sites.

Now several months into the switch, new research shows that the majority of businesses have done little more than the minimum to make sites mobile-friendly and have not fully optimized.  

Google used five main criteria in its evaluation: Users don't have to pinch and zoom to navigate; the site doesn't feature incompatible software like Flash; text is large enough to read; links and buttons are spaced out enough to be easily tapped; and the site doesn't block components such as Javascript and style sheets that are necessary to render the page.

Mobile-friendly sites have indeed moved higher in Google rankings and search results following the switch in April. Mobile platform provider Moovweb analyzed the sites of the top Google AdWords spenders and found an 83 percent increase in mobile-friendliness between Q1 and Q2 of this year. But only 33 percent of those sites went further than meeting the basic mobile-friendly criteria to offer fully optimized mobile experiences.

Of the top 600 AdWords sites that became mobile-friendly between March and June, just 200 were also mobile-optimized. Based on this research, five industries stood out as having significant levels of mobile optimization compared to the rest: travel and hospitality, auto, retail, manufacturing and insurance.

Slightly less than half of the top retail sites were mobile-optimized, behind automotive and travel/hospitality.

Moovweb defines mobile optimization as including a more streamlined process or funnel—two step checkouts versus five steps—and should deliver a different user interface than the desktop version. The research company lauded Forever 21 and Petco's mobile sites for offering mobile prompts to assist in checkout, such as a pop-up number keyboards and geolocation that knows where the shopper is searching for a store—so if the site recognizes a user is in Paris, the app's French verison will appear. 

With the holidays fast approaching, retailers know shoppers will be turning to mobile devices for search, lists, product reviews, locations and purchases. Given the rate of mobile engagement in 2014, being more than mobile-friendly should be a priority for all retailers, not just the top AdWords spenders.

For more:
-See this Moovweb report

Related stories:
Zulily debuts responsive design as mobilegeddon goes unnoticed
Macy's puts mobile first, tests Macy's Go
US shoppers rely on home internet, but mobile-reliant in stores
Macy's updates app to sort items by proximity
Target's transformation roadmap makes mobile the front door