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When Testing The Largest Retailers Against Google’s M-Commerce Standard, Amazon Is The Rare Flunkee

Written by Evan Schuman
June 26th, 2013

With a looming threat that Google will punish sites that do not strictly comply with its specific mobile guidelines, one SEO firm decided to pull out the Fortune 100 list and test everybody on it, using Google’s benchmark. Only a half-dozen companies passed (I’d argue it was only five as one of the six was Google itself). No surprise: None of them were retailers. This we didn’t see coming, though. One of the worst performers was Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).

Most of the retailers did OK, including Walmart, CVS, Costco, Home Depot, Target, Walgreen, Lowe’s, Best Buy and Sears. The grocery chains (Kroger, Safeway and Supervalu) did poorly, but mobile commerce is generally a low grocery priority. Then we get back to Amazon, the retailer—let alone e-tailer—that has generally made all matters tech a huge priority.

Amazon got beaten up on the ratings partially because the spreadsheet said it didn’t have a true mobile site. But it seems to have a true mobile site—a very nice-looking one, too. They do, but it’s apparently not done in the way that Google has in mind.

Brian Klais is the CEO of the SEO operation that did the testing, namely Pure Oxygen Labs. Klais said that Amazon’s mobile site isn’t Google Kosher because it doesn’t use the “m” indicate a dedicated mobile site.

“Instead, they use what is known as a dynamic serving method. It’s a rare but acceptable method, where they vary the content found at the desktop page URLs by user-agent,” Klais said.

To be fair, that technical penalty is not the main reason they are slated to be sent to the mobile search engine doghouse. When a shopper visits Amazon.com directly from an Android or an iPhone, the homepage looks perfect. What got them in trouble was a healthy chunk of its 277 million product pages. According to Klais, many of those deep pages (which are really the only ones shoppers care about)are not mobile-optimized at all. Walmart and Target got it right, but, Klais argues, not Amazon.

Given Amazon’s relentless focus on IT issues everywhere else on the site, why would it drop the ball with mobile? Klais said it’s Amazon’s preference to have as little as possible outsourced.

“Because of the sheer size of their site, crafting the server logic to handle the redirects, that’s a very big job and Amazon wants to do everything in-house. It tends to get backburnered,” he said. “It’s only now that Google is saying (things) so that retailers are starting to take it very seriously.”

There is something odd, though, about Google’s threat, which was made public under the bylines of Google engineer Yoshikiyo Kato and analyst Pierre Far. They gave details, but somehow neglected to give the date when these threatened punishments would begin.

Why go to the trouble of detailing a list of what you want everyone to do, specifying punishments and then giving no deadline? It’s like my telling my daughter, “You better clean your room by some unspecified point in the future or you’ll be grounded for three days.”

Is it possible that Google just wants this to be an idle threat, hoping that mere words (if they’re frightening enough) will get retailers to act?

Although Google’s threat—to reduce the retailer’s products’ ranking on Google—is indeed frightening, there’s a much more natural and logical consequence at play here. The real difference between a proper mobile site and a modified one is all of the stretching and enlarging (or shrinking) that has to happen for the shopper to examine product details or to watch a demo or to make a decision between two garments that look quite similar.

Given that Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Best Buy have figured out how to do it on their mobile sites, that’s a pretty good reason for shoppers using a mobile device to focus on those sites.

It would be different if no major chains were doing it, but given that Amazon is all alone on this, somehow, I don’t Google pressure is really needed to incentive quick action.


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One Comment | Read When Testing The Largest Retailers Against Google’s M-Commerce Standard, Amazon Is The Rare Flunkee

  1. Brian Klais Says:

    As you point out, Amazon does have a unique mobile configuration compared to most retailers we studied. However, one important point to clarify is that Amazon is not alone. Of the 44 Fortune 100 brands with dedicated mobile sites, 19 face the same “deep page” risks Amazon does, including the retailers in that group. That means these companies have many pages indexed in Google that fail to route mobile searchers to relevant mobile pages. In addition to that, all 44 Fortune 100 brands with mobile sites lack Google’s required mobile redirect signals. In our view, all of these brands face ranking risk that is similar in nature to Amazon’s risk. -Brian

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