Ask most marketers about SEO, and there is a good chance that you will encounter eye rolling of epic proportions. That is because from the early days of the web, marketing and SEO have enjoyed a perennial love/hate relationship, as the former desperately sought to solve the conundrum of search engine ranking. They got pretty good at it too, navigating their way through the Yahoo! And Google minefields to propel their brand up the listings into consumer relevancy. And then, to collective marketing gasps of exasperation, came mobile, and they realised they had to figure it out all over again.

Ok, so maybe not from the very beginning, but news this week that Google is rumoured to be using mobile user experience as part of its Google search algorithm has met with an understandably mixed response. Google’s message is that users should have a great experience, regardless of the device the visitor is using and part of the ranking process should be how optimised the website is for a particular mobile device.

It makes sense. Google’s recent research suggests that 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site that they had trouble accessing from their phone. Here at Netbiscuits, a global consumer survey found that 91% of those surveyed decided to use a competitor’s website instead when they did not get the experience they want on a mobile website. The logic dictates that the better the experience, the more likely the customer will get what they want, hence the higher Google ranking.

In terms of what Google can currently do, it can identify the UI and see not just specific fonts but how a visitor would see those fonts on different screen sizes. It can also workout how pages scroll and button sizes should work and be displayed. In a nutshell, GoogleBot will see what users see. Google already penalises pages that generate errors for mobile visitors and this seems to be another step towards ensuring the web puts mobile visitors at the very top of the tree.

It is a sign of today’s web. Mobile is overtaking desktop as the most popular method of accessing the web, so why should not search engines make it par for the course that websites match consumer demand? The problem, of course, is that these changes around ranking may come too quickly for some brands. A recent Forrester report claimed that fifty-seven percent of marketers surveyed did not even have defined mobile objectives. For smaller businesses, you would presume the gap will be even wider. The worrying aspect is the level of guesswork being deployed by businesses of all sizes when it comes to mobile. Many brands we speak to see a large percentage of users bounce from their website at crucial stages, yet they cannot definitively say why. Mobile, very much like flying a 747, is best approached with hard data rather than finger in the air guesswork.

There’s no doubt that consumers are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to mobile, and the question to Google would be where is the line drawn in terms of what constitutes a ‘good mobile experience’. It is a grey area and one that is likely to change; just as dial-up 56k – a once widely accepted connection speed – would now be dismissed as unthinkable by contemporary web users, so to demands on tomorrow’s mobile web will increase greatly.

While tools, such as responsive web design (RWD) are one solution, marketers need to develop a fundamental understanding of the devices being used on their websites before they even think about RWD or similar solutions for mobile. How? Well, mobile analytics tools are becoming increasingly powerful. Marketers should be able to quickly and easily be able to see a variety of different user attributes, such as device type, time of day, bandwidth, browser and screen size impact the way in which visitors behave. For example, do iPhone 6 users on larger screens engage for longer and convert more on an evening than BlackBerry users with smaller screens visiting at the same time? Getting data from mobile analytics into a smart dashboard that both marketing and IT can understand has to be the first step on the road to developing a mobile strategy.

Ultimately, it is about more than where your mobile pages will rank on Google; it is critical to know who your customers are and how their behaviour online is influenced by the device they use and the context they use it in. By taking control of the huge array of customer data marketers can glean from the mobile web, businesses don’t need to have an SEO-style meltdown and can simply focus on delivering great mobile web experiences.