Adopting a Mobile-First Approach

mobile first approach to marketingAs a strategic advisor to brands, I try to provide strategic insights while recognizing and respecting limitations to what brands can and cannot do. 2015 is no different than any other year from a tech development standpoint: the docket is still jam packed with many priorities waiting on deck for implementation.

With my phone and email blowing up this week about Mobilegeddon (Google’s algorithm change giving preference to mobile-friendly sites), I tied to recall how far back the first time I heard Google say that they would eventually give ranking preference to responsive sites. Was it 2 years ago? 3? So far, the day-by-day tracking some of the SEO companies are doing to quantify the impact show single-digit declines in rankings on mobile vs. desktop since the change has been rolling out over the course of this past week. Some companies will be more impacted than others, and other SEO companies are reporting a surge in mobile-friendly sites that just went live this week.

There was also recent news in two reports that US mobile ad spend will surpass that of desktop by the year’s end (Marin and eMarketer). This, combined with the Mobilegeddon news and eMarketer’s prediction that mobile search will surpass desktop search in 2015, means that it is time for marketers to pivot, adopting a mobile-first approach.

A mobile-first approach means that during strategic marketing discussions, mobile is no longer an add-on or an asterisk or an afterthought (or worse, given no thought at all). It means just the opposite: design and copy should be developed for mobile as the first priority. This is a pretty radical change for online marketers.  I was at a conference recently where the brand manager of a large packaged goods company said he now tells his team “show me how the creative looks on a mobile device first.” As most know, typically, it’s the other way around. His suppliers and his team have to get in line with this way of thinking.

In the areas of digital marketing that I influence, following are some suggestions on how to adopt a mobile-first approach.

1. Paid search copy and sitelinks: There is less room for ad copy on mobile devices. Paid ads on mobile devices frequently show punctuation issues because the search engines shorten the copy, but the search marketers don’t account for that. They are just rolling over their desktop ad for mobile. Likewise, more often than not, sitelinks appear truncated for the same reason.

2. Paid search extensions: The search engines make available click-to-call, location extensions, star ratings, review extensions – all of which improve click-through rates and conversions for mobile paid search.

3. Mobile PLAs: The best way to yield demand from non-brand paid search.

4. Mobile ad serving: Regular ad servers count impressions by server calls and only work on certain browsers and never mobile apps. Since sites frequently load more slowly on mobile devices, better to use an ad server specifically for mobile that counts loads – not calls – and serves impressions on all browser types and within apps.

5. Responsive design: After the news this week from Google on their algorithm change, the need for this or some form of mobile-friendly site should be clear.

6. Analytics: Look at campaign results by segments, not combined, in order to identify where mobile specifically is performing well, and then blow out those placements.

7. Cross device: Always a best practice to implement cross device tracking and work with media providers who can support cross device placements. For marginal programs, it is a must.

8. Mobile ad networks: Most ad networks will serve impressions on mobile devices, but mobile networks have more access serving into apps and provide more bells and whistles for things like location-based targeting.

9. Intent: Simply cloning a desktop campaign does not speak to the intent of a mobile user which is usually different. Searches for brick and mortar locations from mobile devices are likely due to a need for directions, hours, or phone numbers, so best to provide them somewhere in the copy or in the ad unit.

10. Dayparting: research shows mobile usage differs from desktop. Consider showing ads when mobile usage is high, speaking to the likely intent at specific dayparts such as a restaurant pushing out specials at lunch or dinner time or bidding higher during those hours.

These are just a few suggestions on how to adopt a mobile-first approach. Desktop isn’t going away but mobile can no longer be a bolt-on to the desktop campaign strategy. Every campaign design should now have multiple strategies supporting desktop and mobile in order to best leverage the attributes and benefits of the unique device types.

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