By Michael Hughes, Financial Services Consultant, Maxymiser

The furore surrounding Google’s new mobile friendly ranking algorithms has been intense – yet those financial services companies making panicked changes to websites in a desperate bid to avoid the dreaded ranking drop could be doing more damage than they realise. Failing to optimise could damage the user experience, resulting in lost conversion and disengaged customers.

At time when traditional Financial Services companies are already struggling to regain ground from the digital savvy online only new market entrants, and some banks and insurers are now seeing conversion rates of upwards of 40% on mobile devices, here are the risks of making unvalidated changes in the chase for mobile rankings.

Mobile Friendly

The world didn’t stop turning on April 21st when Google’s much vaunted changes to its mobile ranking algorithms came into play. The so called Mobilegeddon event is all about Google encouraging companies to make sites far more mobile friendly – an issue that should already be at the centre of any financial services company’s online agenda.

In a financial services market already under pressure from tech savvy digital only market entrants, dropping customer loyalty and the new retention problems created by account switching, no business can afford to jeopardise any aspect of the customer journey. A knee jerk reaction to Google’s desire for mobile friendly sites could be an extremely expensive mistake.

Yet given the hype surrounding this event, more than a few organisations were doubtless quaking at the prospect of sliding dramatically down the rankings list – indeed, according to the Motley Fool, a staggering 49 percent of the Fortune 500 companies’ websites do not meet the “mobile friendly” status. Indeed, the financial service industry is more exposed than many to the new Google algorithm, as banks have traditionally been slower to optimise for mobile and tablet experiences compared to other sectors.

In reality, the immediate impact of the new algorithms was somewhat underwhelming, with growing numbers of pundits suggesting that Google is opting for a phased algorithm change rather than big bang approach. However, for those banks and insurers desperate to retain top rankings there is a very real risk that making the recommended changes may not be 100% good news. Indeed, by failing to ascertain the impact of these changes on the user experience, banks and insurers may be compromising business performance in the hunt for rankings.

Clear Direction

Google has been pretty explicit about its definition of a mobile friendly experience. For example, responsive design is right up there as a key requirement. And yet, responsive design is no guarantee of a great user experience. Indeed, one recent optimisation exercise revealed that one motor insurer’s carefully crafted responsive quote journey actually induced a 5% drop in conversions – against the original experience that wasn’t even mobile optimised. Armed with this insight, the company did not deploy the new version to the wider customer base and is taking another look at the customer journey. But just consider the business impact if, in chasing better Google rankings, the business had deployed the change and experienced that resultant significant loss of business.

With the growth in the mobile savvy financial consumer the established approach of optimising for desktop first, as this is where the majority of conversions take place, is now rightly being challenged. In fact, financial institutions should view the Google algorithm as an opportunity to improve mobile and tablet usability through optimisation, to build on the continued migration of customers from desktop to using other devices for both researching and applying for financial products.


There is no doubt that Mobilegeddon has created a furore – although whether it is a storm in a teacup remains to be seen. However, it has raised a very critical issue: in a mobile centric marketplace no bank or insurer can afford to make any changes to the mobile user experience without assessing the impact first. It may not be Armageddon when it comes to mobile rankings – but it might just break out within the business if a change to the mobile site results in a major drop in user conversion.

At a time when financial institutions are having to claw back acres of ground lost to innovative, digital only players, no company can risk damaging the user experience for any reason, however compelling the Google argument. With mobile conversion rates hitting 40% for some financial services companies, it is essential to meet the challenge of Mobilegeddon successfully. It is only by optimising every aspect of the experience and validating every change the companies can confidently evolve the mobile user experience and maintain Google rankings.