Google Just Upped Penalty for Hotel Without Mobile-Friendly Website

NB: This is an article from HeBS Digital

Just when you thought you had mobile marketing covered, Google announced the forthcoming release of an update that will increase the importance of maintaining mobile friendliness. In May 2016, Google is expected to release another mobile-friendly algorithm update, further punishing a hotel website that is not deemed mobile-friendly.

Google Mobile-Friendliness Algorithm Update 2.0 is the Issue

Last April, Google released its Mobile-Friendliness Algorithm Update, the most impactful change since the rollout of Google Panda in 2011. This update gave preferential rankings to those sites deemed by Googlebot to be “mobile-friendly” and punished “mobile-unfriendly” sites in Google’s mobile search rankings.

Google assesses whether or not a site is mobile-friendly on a pass/fail basis. If a site satisfies its front- and back-end requirements, it receives a passing grade and can earn higher rankings on search engine results pages. The search giant started using mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal on mobile searches to ensure users receive the best possible results, whether they are searching via mobile, tablet or desktop device.

If a hotel website is not easy to use on mobile, Google will penalize the site even further by ranking it lower on its mobile search pages. This upcoming update could result in non-mobile-friendly sites ranking even lower than they have been.

As a reminder, the criteria Google uses to deem a website mobile-friendly include:

  • Avoiding software not common on mobile devices, like Flash
  • Incorporating readable text without zoom
  • Sizing content to the screen to eliminate scrolling
  • Placing links far enough apart to be selected and tapped easily
  • Ensuring quick page load speeds

New criteria for the Mobile-Friendly Update 2.0 are expected to include Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). AMP HTML and AMP JavaScript components make better use of resources and ensure static content pages render faster in the mobile environment.

Google is expected to make AMP a ranking factor in the relatively near future, meaning pages utilizing AMP and cached in Google’s AMP cache could earn higher rankings than other content pages – even those pages deemed ‘mobile-friendly’ by the search engine.

Google offers a number of tools to help hoteliers ascertain their site’s level of mobile-friendliness. Google Search Console also highlights mobile usability errors that sites can correct for enhanced mobile search visibility. When a site satisfies both front- and back-end requirements, it receives a passing grade. This means that the site may earn higher rankings on search engine results pages as Google tries to provide users with relevant, helpful, and usable sites via organic search.

Why is it Important to Hoteliers?

At the recent HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy Conference in New York, Google announced that nearly 60% of searches in 2016 already happen via mobile devices/smartphones.

According to Google Research, nine out of ten people are “cross-device” Internet browsers and researchers, using multiple devices sequentially (moving from one device to another at different times). Smartphones are by far the most common starting point for sequential activity: 65% of users start their research on a smartphone and 60% continue on a desktop device. As an example, 55% of users use multiple screens sequentially when researching pricing information in travel.

This upcoming algorithmic change grows out of a continuing trend toward mobile-friendliness:

  • Searches on mobile devices for hotels increased by more than 27% year-over-year (Google)
  • 52% of millennial business travelers book on their mobile devices (Skift)
  • By 2018, mobile is expected to account for 35 percent of online bookings (World Travel Market)

We clearly see the results of this age-defining shift from desktop to mobile and tablet devices across our hotel client portfolio: more than 20% of online bookings and roomnights are generated from non-desktop devices (smartphones + tablets), while nearly 50% of web visitors and over 44% of page views come from tablets and mobile devices. The mobile channel contributes directly to additional 30%-40% bookings via the voice channel (HeBS Digital Research).

If a hotel website is not accessible via mobile, travel planners will simply visit another hotel site. This lost opportunity costs hoteliers organic search visibility, website traffic, and direct online revenue. If your property does not meet the mobile-friendliness guidelines, now is the time to get in front of the problem. The greatest room for growth in the digital space is the mobile channel – smart hoteliers are capitalizing on this in 2016 by achieving mobile-friendly compliance.

What do HeBS Digital’s Digital Marketing Experts Recommend?

Google’s announcement of the Mobile-Friendliness Algorithm Update 2.0 in advance of the May 2016 rollout gives hoteliers ample time to make the updates necessary to meet the search engine’s new mobile standards.

At HeBS Digital, we’re thankful to be a Google Partner agency. To ensure our clients are delivering the best search results to prospective customers, our team of digital technology and marketing experts work proactively to deliver flexible website technology and SEO practices that comply with Google’s stringent and often-evolving requirements.

Here are some priority action steps:

Website Technology Audit:

Audit whether your property website technology platform and content management system (CMS) are engineered to comply with the latest Google Update. Using industry-leading technology as the backbone of your hotel website is the best way to ensure your site stays compliant with Google’s mobile-friendliness requirements.

For example, HeBS Digital’s award-winning website technology platform, used for all of our clients’ websites – the smartCMS v7 – meets Google’s mobile-friendliness guidelines by default. Thanks to our strategic partnership with Google and advance notice of the upcoming Google Mobile-Friendliness Algorithm Update, our team of digital technology and marketing experts worked proactively to ensure the smartCMS v7, was properly engineered to comply with Google’s new very stringent requirements, including the expected AMP ranking factor.

The smartCMS technology provides flexibility and responsiveness so that when algorithmic updates occur, our team of programming, development and organic search experts can act immediately to roll out up-to-the-minute automatic updates to ensure mobile-friendliness, even as Google’s requirements evolve. Each of our client websites has passed the Googlebot test and is fully compatible with this major Google update even before this next algorithmic update takes effect.

SEO Technology Audit:

Performing an SEO audit of your website, including a full audit of link structure, re-sizing of images, reconfiguring design elements, or replacing Flash with crawlable, search-friendly code, allowing the Googlebot to crawl pages fully, is vital to ensure your website complies with Google’s mobile search requirements.

User-Centric Content & Website Design:

In addition to running your hotel website on an adaptable and mobile-friendly CMS technology, remembering to create and display content with the user in mind is critical. Google’s emphasis on mobile usability should only reinforce the importance of designing and developing websites and creating content that benefits the user and serves a valuable purpose.

Website Download Speeds:

Audit your website’s download speeds, especially on mobile devices. Slow mobile download speed is “killer” of mobile usability and a big no-no, according to Google’s latest Mobile- Friendliness Algorithm Update.

Make sure your website is hosted in the cloud with built-in redundancies and load-balancing, and utilizes CDN (Content Delivery Network) platform enabling distributed content delivery of the rich media content. All of these dramatically increase download, improves user experience and conversions, and improves search engine rankings that are increasingly dependent on fast download speeds.

For example, here at HeBS Digital, our hotel clients’ websites enjoy lightning-fast cloud hosting and CDN (Content Delivery Network) download speeds – two to three times faster than the industry average. This can result in better user experience, better conversion rates, and better search engine rankings.

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