Highlights from Google’s Mobile Sites Academy Bootcamp 2017

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This week I jetted to Sydney to attend Google’s Mobile Sites Academy Bootcamp 2017. The new Academy Bootcamp series is being run as part of the Google Partners program, which offers free professional development to registered Google Partners (of which I am one, along with Scout Digital Marketing).

Please note, Google Partners certifications are soon to be moved to Academy for Ads, effective January 2018.

The goal of the new bootcamp series is to help Google Partners study for Google’s various certifications over a day, then sit the exam at the end of the day. This initial round included Google’s Mobile Sites and Google Analytics certifications, and were facilitated by Google Analytics demigod, Benjamin Mangold of Loves Data.

While Google provides its Mobile Sites study material and exam freely online, it was a huge benefit to have Benjamin run through the curriculum with us, explaining complex areas, answering questions and helping us to prepare for the exam.

The session was held in the UTS Business building, and had all the trimmings of a great Google event: swag bags, drinks, snacks and meals, and even free massages.

Approximately 100 people attended this limited event, with the majority of us coming from marketing backgrounds. A smaller portion of attendees had development backgrounds, which definitely gave them an edge given the technical nature of much of the Mobile Sites material.

The Mobile Sites certification is a recent addition from Google, launched in April 2017, and sitting alongside their existing Adwords and Analytics certifications, and new Digital Sales certification. Certifications are valid for 12-18 months (duration varies depending on certification) and are a strong indication of an individual’s skills, as well as contributing to agencies earning the Google Partners badge (Scout is a badged Google Partner).

It’s no surprise that Google are focusing on educating people on best practices for mobile sites. In October 2016 we hit the tipping point globally with the majority of internet browsing now occurring on mobile devices, and Australia is sitting just below the 50% mark, but on track to tip the scales as well.

Another recognition Google has made regarding the importance of mobile browsing is their plan to change to “mobile first indexing” of their search engine, where the mobile version of the site is prioritised in search results over the desktop version (if separate/different).

This is incredibly important for websites that continue to have a desktop only, or non-responsive website, that doesn’t perform well on mobile devices, giving a poor user experience.

The Mobile Sites training materials cover the aspects of mobile websites that Google deems most important.

Best practices for mobile websites

Anyone can access the full Mobile Sites study material, however here are some highlights from the curriculum and yesterday’s session.

Benefits of mobile websites over apps

While “having an app” has been all the rage for a while, it is important to consider the benefits of an effective and engaging mobile website, over an app:

  • Mobile websites are accessed through a mobile device’s in built browser, and does not need to be downloaded or installed
  • They are built once and run everywhere
  • They work on phones and tablets (and if responsive, on desktop as well)
  • This results in shorter development timelines and lower development costs
  • Tracking through Google Analytics or similar is simpler
  • They don’t need to be submitted to approval either initially, or when updates are released
  • They don’t require different versions for the iTunes Store, Google Play etc

This touches on a different point about whether you actually need an app which I won’t get into today, except to say that a good app is one that is used repeatedly and frequently for a very specific task. In many cases, a great mobile/responsive website is far more effective than an app.

User expectations of mobile websites

With our ever growing use of and comfort with mobile internet browsing, user expectations are also growing.

We expect websites to work on mobiles, and work fast.

In a Google poll, almost half of the respondents said their top frustration when browsing on the web on their mobile device was waiting for slow pages to load.

60% of mobile users expect mobile websites to load within 3 seconds.

On average, 75% of people will abandon a mobile website if it takes any longer than 5 seconds to load.

And importantly, mobile pages that load 1 second faster see up to a 27% increase in conversion rate.

Quoted from Loves Data’s training materials.

We ran through a number of tips and techniques for improving speed on mobile websites, beginning with an understanding of how a browser “builds” the visual content of the web page, and how we can troubleshoot and improve site loading speed. Google’s Mobile Sites training material also provides recommended speed and production targets for mobile websites.

Converting a higher percentage of your website’s current visitors is much more cost effective than attracting new ones, and even the smallest change can greatly increase conversions.

Want to check the speed of your website? Try these tools:

WebPageTest

Google’s Mobile Friendly Test

YSlow

Design best practices for mobile websites

There was a wealth of useful information provided about best practices for mobile website design, though much of it is also common sense.

Mobile internet browsing individuals are often:

  • On the go
  • Multitasking
  • Time poor
  • Action oriented

and these considerations should go into the mobile site design.

  • Feature primary calls-to-action in the most prominent site space (and don’t overwhelm with too many options, guide users down the path you want them to follow).
  • Keep menus short with distinct categories to ease navigation.
  • Use the logo as a link back to the homepage.
  • Don’t allow promotions to interfere with CTAs (calls to action), and keep them distinct.
  • If relevant, use a prominent and effective in-site search.
  • Allow visitors to use the website (even make purchases) without registering for an account.
  • If you are encouraging people to register, offer tangible benefits for registering.
  • Offering prominent click-to-call buttons can keep users from leaving the site when they need more information.
  • Mobile visitors may be researching for later, or hesitant to convert on a mobile site, so offer simple ways to return to the journey on another device via social sharing, email, save to cart, save progress etc.
  • Make forms intuitive and easy to use, e.g. number pad for fields requiring number entry, visual calendar pickers for dates, real-time validation error messages, and minimum number of fields required etc.

We finished off the session discussing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), using APIs for push notifications, and automated payment integration.

I have to admit, my development training at the Institute of Code’s coding bootcamp earlier this year definitely helped me study for, sit and pass this exam, as there is a lot of technical knowledge that goes into building and optimising effective mobile websites.

The above information and more detailed documentation from the Mobile Sites certification study material is valuable not just for the certification, but for improving your understanding of what makes a great mobile website.

If you have any questions about Google’s certifications, or mobile sites, contact me!

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