Monday, April 6, 2015

Google, Mobile Usability Site Optimization and the Tyranny of the Algorithm

While we all recognize that the world is being reshaped by smart phones and mobile devices, there is still this difficult gray area that lives in the difference between mobile and the traditional desktop. Even Google struggles with it. Here's an example -- if you search YouTube on your desktop device, you can view a host of music videos, official ones from the artists associated with them. Try to view them on your mobile device and you'll have a difficult time. It's not the video format, it's their content rules that block your access.

Despite issues like this, there are people out there that want to remake the Internet, to change it so that you have "equal" access to the contents of the web, regardless of device. It's a noble goal, but it significantly underplays some critical differences between the desktop world and the mobile world. The "madness" destroying "the best minds of our generation" seems to be this fixation on making the desktop world function like the mobile world. Take Windows 8 and the "Metro" interface as an example. Or many of the stupid crossover features in the Yosemite version of Mac OSX. From a design standpoint, it's worse that the lowest common denominator, it's trying to force the desktop to adapt to the mobile-touch model.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
     starving hysterical naked
Google has now decided that the rest of the world must follow this edict. If you're a webmaster, you've probably already received notices and alerts that they are updating their indexing rules to include mobile usability as a ranking factor in indexing. It doesn't matter if the vast majority of your traffic is not mobile, Google has decided that you need to tune your content for mobile.

For some industries, mobile traffic is anything but the norm. For a couple of sites that I manage, mobile traffic probably represents less than 10% of the traffic -- the business is primarily B2B and customers go from office desktops to the resources on the site. There just isn't a huge demand for importing 3D CAD files onto your iPhone. However, back in the halls of Google, this year's graduate class of geniuses has suddenly decided that Aunt Minnie should be able to see those pages of CAD files with an experience that corresponds to the same one an engineer with a high-end CAD station can.

Here's the crazy part -- remember when they decided that they wanted to include Google+ considerations in your search results? Because clearly you want a personalized search experience and, when your friend 'likes' those CAD files, it probably means that you'll want to check them out too. Anyway, Google is already delivering some level of "personalization" in their search results. But is is reasonable for them to tap a different ranking for desktop and mobile? It used to be, but not anymore. So says Google. Because it doesn't matter what you think you know about your customers, Google has decided that they know better. And they will change the world. You could ignore it, but that won't just affect the small percentage of people who might have a lesser experience on your site because they were using a mobile device. Now, it will affect your visibility to all of your customers.

Accessibility is not the same on the web as it is in real life. This "one-size-fits-all" approach, making everything adapt to mobile is deluded at the core. It's true that, when I'm mobile I want access to things like -- and I need access to all of my data there. I want recipes and directions and sometimes shopping. I price compare. Sometimes I look up stuff in order to explain it. But, even if it were available on my phone, I wouldn't use my phone to create artwork in Adobe Illustrator. And more to the point -- I don't want Adobe to re-engineer Illustrator so that the one somebody-somewhere-who-has-decided-that-it-would-be-cool-if-they-could-use-Illustrator-on-their-phone is satisfied. This is not progress. This is not thoughtful product roadmap. These are outliers, problems best addressed by extensions or accessories.

A better path would be if Google simple called attention to potential mobile issues, but didn't include it in ranking -- unless you were ranking on a mobile device. I'd be cool with that. But they don't ask me. And it's their algorithm. We just have to live under it.

1 comment:

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