When it comes to updates in the fickle world of technology, an indistinguishable line separates the wonderful from the dreadful. Apple releases a new product or iOS, and the world clambers to adopt it. Google introduces an update to its ranking algorithms, giving mobile-friendly pages an edge in mobile search results, and complete pandemonium ensues.

As of last Tuesday, ‘Mobilegeddon’ has passed and to the surprise of some, the Earth continues to turn on its axis. Of the many commercial sectors affected by the changes, ecommerce had particular cause for concern. Falling from the first page of Google’s search results is enough to bankrupt an online retailer, as Rory Cellan-Jones points out.

So every retailer needs a mobile-friendly site. Is that the lesson here? Not necessarily. There’s no panacea, and even those who pass the mobile-friendly test could be affected when algorithms next change. Instead, there are several bigger-picture takeaways that should be considered and are more important than mobile-friendly formatting.

Focus on the target audience
A business must not lose focus of who its customers are and where it is positioned in the industry. For example, Bob Barker Company is North America’s largest supplier of clothing and products approved for use in prisons. Despite a substantial customer base, the company doesn’t have a mobile-friendly site because its specialised audience is more likely to place orders using a computer or toll-free number than a smartphone. So while one retailer might desperately need to invest in a mobile site to reach its target, another business’ client base might not justify the expenditure.

Demographic information about customers, types of products or industry prominence can also make a difference. A retailer selling complex goods (e.g. home floor plans) or that is particularly famous (Harry Winston) might feel less motivation to use a mobile site as a means of competition or sales growth. If a mobile-friendly site will not help reach targets, a company might best be served by investing in other initiatives.

Prioritise user experience
Even if a website passes Google’s mobile-friendly test, it might not be intuitive or helpful to users. If shoppers encounter errors or must endure arduous navigation, then the company could deter customers and undermine sales growth. Inconsistency and limited functionality also create negative impressions.

It’s important for companies to regularly assess design and performance of their mobile-friendly sites. Large numbers of mobile users opting for the full desktop version of a site might indicate flaws needing remedying. So remember that user-friendly trumps mobile-friendly.

Stay proactive; stay relevant
The companies most alarmed and disadvantaged by the algorithmic changes were those that realised they needed a mobile-friendly site when it was too late. Especially in the sphere of ecommerce, it is dangerous to sit back and find contentment in what’s ‘good enough’. Technology, competition and consumers are always gravitating towards the next best thing. Those not leading the pack are trailing it. And that’s a devastating realisation.

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