Mobilegeddon – Are You Ready?

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It is a great irony that the financial industry, known for its prolific product innovation, has been so slow to adapt to web and mobile technology. Many small to medium sized investment firms, indeed, companies that adorn “best of” lists from Forbes and Barron’s, still have websites that look straight out of 2005, replete with ancient copyright dates and pointless Flash intro movies (which don’t play on most mobile devices, anyway).

Speaking of Forbes, it has been more than two years since columnist Susan Gunelius observed:

“We’ve moved beyond mobile and finally reached the point where companies are accepting the fact that the best ROI comes from fully integrated marketing programs. It’s hard to fully integrate when your website is a convoluted mess of versions for different devices or worse, a single version that renders poorly on different devices.”

Most of the world has moved into the mobile age. From behemoths like the U.S. Government ( all the way down to Nick’s NY Pizza in Tempe, Arizona, companies and organizations have realized that the world wants information available at any time, anywhere, and on any device.

In fact, most of our Internet searches come from mobile devices – not desktop PCs. This tipping point actually happened in late 2013.

Yet the financial industry continues to be a straggler.


But if the growing preference of their clients to access information and communicate online isn’t enough to spur advisors into action – or the flanking movement by software-driven “robo-advisors” – an imminent move by Google just might be.

Dubbed Mobilegeddon, April 21, 2015 marks the date that Google will change its vaunted search algorithm to penalize the search engine rankings of websites that are not mobile-friendly. Google’s announcement is not all that surprising to “techies.” After all, recent studies have shown that as many as 44% of consumers have said they will not return to a website that is not mobile friendly. Google is simply following consumer trends and preferences.

But how will it impact you?

Mad Men

The key question obviously is, does it matter? And here is where many financial advisors and firms need to come to grips with reality: online matters. Mobile matters. Google search rankings matter.

The battle for the next generation of investors is not being fought at country clubs or on golf courses or at trading desks. It is being fought on Google.

The battle for the next generation of investors is not being fought at country clubs or on golf courses or at trading desks. It is being fought on Google.

Financial firms with an eye on growth and the future are not investing in posh office spaces, glossy brochures, or 40-page pitch books. Instead, they are investing in communications tools that allow their clients and employees to collaborate in real-time using virtual meeting spaces. They are investing in technologies that extend (but don’t replace) the client experience to an online format that includes portals and real-time reporting. They are investing in digital content, social media, and search engine optimization (SEO) to help separate them from the pack of firms and advisors who hold the nostalgic view that our industry still does business the way it is portrayed in the popular television series, Mad Men.

Forward-looking firms are also tackling the growing “robo-advisor” movement head-on, reminding investors that while returns and asset allocation are important, the “human” and relationship-building components of financial services should not be discounted. They are implementing the same systems that make “robo-advisors” so appealing – convenience, competitive returns, lower fees, no conflicts of interest – and competing in areas where many “robo-advisors” are lacking – customization, relationship-building, and service. While the costs of these efforts are difficult to scale, smart firms are using technology to do so.

Rankings Matter

For better or for worse, Google is where the world goes for information. Every time you blink, Google processes over 40,000 search queries. That’s nearly 3.5 billion searches per day.

Search engine optimization, or “SEO,” has become a multi-billion dollar business, and here is why: of those 3.5 billion searches that Google processes each day, less than 10% of users will click on anything beyond Google’s first page of search results. In other words, if you don’t show up on the first page of results, the odds are slim that anyone will find you online through a Google search.

Moreover, of those “Page One” results (remember, by default, Google shows 10 results per page), nearly one-third of all clicks went to the #1 ranked site. That is why SEO is a billion dollar industry. It is also why Google’s imminent changes could be catastrophic for firms without any kind of meaningful online strategy.

Reverse Engineering: Putting On Your “Client Hat”

If a potential client is trying to research you – and firms like you – what do you think they would type into Google? Think about your current top prospects. What words and phrases would they search for to find you online?

Perhaps they would search using some combination of your primary area of business (“wealth management”) and your geographic location (“Dallas”). Maybe they would also include the name of your company or product (“ACME Advisors”), and/or a key individual at your firm (“John Smith”).

Fire up Google, and start searching using different combinations of these keywords. Does your company appear on the first page? Is your Google “snippet” well formed, including your company name, key words and phrases, and titles and descriptions that aren’t cut off?

Think about it this way: every time your firm appears in a Google search result, that’s free advertising. Take advantage of it.

The Mobile Web

If we accept that the power of Google and search rankings is a critical component of your firm’s long-term sustainability, here is where “Mobilegeddon” impacts you. Practically speaking, the change in Google’s algorithm means that your site will be much less likely to appear in mobile keyword searches if it is not mobile-friendly.

What determines whether a site is mobile-friendly?

The easiest, most basic of tests will take less than 30 seconds. Just type your company’s web address into your phone and/or tablet’s browser. Is it simply a smaller, harder-to-read version of your “regular” website? If so, it is not mobile-friendly.

By immediately recognizing the size, type, and orientation of the device on which they are being displayed, mobile-friendly sites minimize ‘pinching,’ ‘scrolling’ and/or ‘zooming’ by re-sizing content and user interfaces on-the-fly. They will also adjust the content according to the device’s orientation (is it being viewed in portrait mode? In landscape mode?).

This provides mobile users with the ability to interact fully with all the site’s features, but in a way that adapts to the user’s device (a smartphone, tablet, and more recently, smart TVs, home entertainment consoles like Xbox and PlayStation, and in the coming months, wearable devices like the Apple Watch). If you have ever needed to get a street address or phone number for a company from your phone while on the go, you surely can appreciate firms who have expended the effort to create a friendly mobile experience.

In years’ past, even the size of a user’s computer monitor could significantly affect the display – and design – of a site. Do we optimize the site for 800 by 600 pixel displays, or for 1024 by 768? Ten years ago, more than 80% of computer screen displays were one of these two resolutions (today: less than seven percent).

As mobile devices became commonplace over the past decade, some companies created entirely separate mobile websites designed specifically for smartphones. While this kept these firms ahead of the curve, it also proved to be costly and time-intensive, requiring development and content management strategies for multiple websites.

Getting Ready for Mobilegeddon

Today, it isn’t necessary to build and maintain separate websites for users based on how they are accessing your content. Responsive Web Design (RWD) has made it possible for websites to function and display appropriately regardless of browser or device. A well-designed site may look different on an Android than it does on an iPhone, and yet it is all still just “one” website (for those who enjoy the geeky details, the site’s software code is essentially saying, “if the person is viewing this site on their phone, move this image up a few pixels, and hide that header, etc.).

Websites that are built with RWD immediately recognize the kind of device being used, and adapt content accordingly for the optimal user experience. This can mean anything from adjusting the size of an image (or whether the image is shown at all) on an iPhone being viewed in portrait mode, to creating a special, touch-friendly navigation for tablet devices.

At OrangeAxis, we have a passion for leveraging technology such as RWD and SEO to help financial firms increase profitability, improve efficiency, and achieve differentiation in an over-crowded marketplace. We have been urging companies in our industry, regardless of size, to maximize their web presence and functionality, and to use social media to interact with their clients and prospects online.

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