Murphy's Law: Searching Questions

David Murphy

Murphys Law image buyagift (1)'Tis the season to be jolly, and of course to run around trying to find Christmas presents for all and sundry. And given the busy lives we all lead, mobile can play a massive part in helping us do this. 10 minutes to kill on the bus or the train? The perfect opportunity to sort a couple of presents.

So with this in mind, I thought it might be interesting to put a couple of search terms – ‘Christmas presents’ and ‘Christmas gifts’ into Google on desktop and mobile, and see what I got back in terms of the top paid and natural results and what happened when I clicked on the links.

I wasn’t particularly interested in the desktop results per se, more in how they compared to, or differed from, the mobile ones.

Let’s look at ‘Christmas Gifts’ as a search term first of all. On the PC, the top three paid results were:

  • Alexanderandjames.com/Christmas

  • Asda.com/ChristmasGifts

  • Firebox.com/Gifts

On mobile, the top three paid results were:

  • Currys.co.uk/Christmas-gifts – this turned out to be a decent mobile site, easy to navigate and well designed.

  • Asda.com/christmasgifts – another good site, responsive from the looks of it. Click on any link on the homepage, and rather than making a network call, it whizzes you down to the relevant section of the site, which is on one long homepage.

  • m.gettingpersonal.co.uk – this is another good, dedicated mobile site that’s easy to shop.

So far then, so encouraging. Three brands who have bid enough to come top of the search results on the term, ‘Christmas gifts’ have returned a link which takes you to a mobile-friendly site where you can easily shop for presents.

Natural results
When it comes to the natural/organic results, on desktop, the top three were:

  • Notonthehighstreet.com/Christmas

  • Johnlewis.com/Christmas

  • Prezzybox.com/Christmas-gifts

On mobile we got:

  • Notonthehighstreet.com/Christmas – this was not a good experience, taking me to the full desktop site.

  • Johnlewis.com/Christmas – mobile-friendly, though not much of an effort had been made to make it look especially festive and get you in the mood to part with your cash, or to be precise, credit card details.

  • m. Prezzybox.com/Christmas-gifts – another good, dedicated mobile site, where the goods on offer are categorized by the type of person you are buying for, eg: ‘Boys’; ‘Teenage boys’; ‘Husbands and boyfriends’; ‘Grandads’ etc., with a nice, Christmassy feel to it, and easy navigation.

The interesting question here is whether notonthehighstreet.com can help the fact that it finishes in the top three natural results on mobile, even though it doesn’t have a mobile property to send people to. The answer is, it can’t, as mobile consultant and trainer, Rob Thurner, told me when I asked him:

“Google ranks pages and sites based on a range factors as with PC - keywords, links to other high- ranking and well-trafficked sites, and page load times," said Thurner. "In addition, for mobile, Google classifies sites based on site coding and CMS used. Priority #1 - fully responsive sites. Priority #2 - sites that dynamically serve all devices the same set of URLs, but each URL serves different HTML and CSS depending on whether user agent is desktop or mobile device. Priority #3 - sites with different mobile and desktop URLs.”

So there’s nothing notinthehighstreet can do about finishing so high in the natural search results; what it could, should, do is create a mobile-friendly version of its desktop site to link to from those mobile search results.

In fact, on further investigation, it appears that nononthehighstreet does indeed have a mobile site. Tests on an iPhone confirmed this, but this morning for some reason, this was not being served to my Sony Xperia Z, most likely down to a fault somewhere in the notonthehighstreet.com javascript.

Janet Plumpton, one of the SEO strategists at Latitude Digital, told me: “It does appear that the serving of the mobile site is not implemented correctly – there is code within the source code which is set to pull in alternative CSS and JavaScript for mobile visitors. Whilst this code in in place, it appears that it has not been correctly implanted, from manual tests in the office we get the mobile site on the iPhone but not on alternative handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S3. User Agent switchers also fail to pick up the mobile site on a desktop.”

Present time
So let’s have a look at the second search term, ‘Christmas Presents’, which threw up a different issue. Looking at the natural results first this time, on the desktop, the top three were:

  • Johnlewis.com/christmas

  • notonthehighstreet.com/Christmas

  • Buyagift.co.uk/christmas

On mobile, the top three were:

  • notonthehighstreet.com/Christmas – see comments above

  • Johnlewis.com/Christmas – see comments above

  • Buyagift.co.uk/Christmas – the pick of the bunch, mobile-optimised, with a very welcoming, festive homepage to get you in the mood to spend.

Paid results
As for the paid results, on the PC, the top three were:

  • Alexanderandjames.com/christmas

  • Americanexpress.com/uk/gift-cards

  • Gettingpersonal.co.uk/Christmas

On mobile, the top three were:

  • Americanexpress.com/uk/gift-cards – not good, not optimised for mobile.

  • Currys.co.uk/Christmas-gifts – see comments above.

  • Leialingerie.com/Christmas – again, not good, not optimised for mobile.

So out of the top three paid results on mobile, two click through to a non-mobile-friendly experience, which seems odd/daft. Why bid on a keyword on mobile if you don’t have a mobile property to take people to? Here, it seems, neither American Express nor Leia Lingerie have much of a defence.

“Google is now selling PPC (pay-per-click) advertising across PC, tablet and mobile,” explains Thurner. “You bid on what you want, at the prevailing auction price for multiple keywords. American Express is bidding on gift cards, but has not ensured its PPC ads are directed to the mobile version of its site. This is often the case, and a waste of money driving traffic to a non-mobile optimised site.”

Ben Wightman, head of paid search at Latitude Digital, agrees with this assessment. He told me: “Amex could do something about this. The landing page is far from optimal for mobile users and I would assume (given the search terms they’re bidding on and the time of year) that they’re spending a fairly significant sum on acquiring this traffic.

“They could choose to bid to appear on desktop and tablet devices only. In Adwords they can do this by setting their mobile bid multipliers to -100 per cent. This effectively sets mobile bids to zero, allowing the advertiser to opt-out of appearing on mobile. In Bing Ads they can simply exclude smartphones in their targeting options.

“Alternatively Amex could create a landing page on their mobile-optimised website. It’s possible they didn’t think the development cost was worth the potential return, however it’s hard to imagine that the desktop landing page is converting at a high enough rate to be profitable. In addition, the poor visitor experience may deter potential customers from returning to Amex sites in the future… so yes, I would definitely agree, it seems a bit dumb.”

So this is just a brief snapshot of the mCommerce world in the run up to Christmas then. The conclusion to the end-of-term report might read: ‘Much improved over last year, but the pupil continues to make some basic schoolboy errors which could be easily addressed with a bit more logical thinking and planning.’

Happy shopping!