Could this be the kick the industry needs to take mobile seriously?

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21 April 2015
Jamie Macgregor
Today marks one of the most significant changes to Google’s algorithms seen in recent years. As of this morning, Google’s search engine will favour mobile friendly content over traditional website content. Many firms who have not invested in mobile will get caught out as they start to slide down the search result list when viewed from a mobile, possibly moving from page 1 to page 2 or 3. For firms that are reliant on online sales and service, such as small businesses and retail, this change could have a significant impact on their revenues, probably resulting in either frantic tweaking of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) routines, a rapid investment in redesigning their site for mobile, or some other more radical action such as simply scaling back operations to match lower revenue streams. Within the insurance industry, the greatest initial impact is likely to be felt by insurance distributors, aggregators and direct operators who increasingly rely on online sales for retail products. Many of these operators have been investing in mobile-ready sites for some time now. So, to test the progress made, I thought it would be fun to conduct a quick highly unscientific test just to see how far down the results list you had to go before you reached a site that was not listed as ‘mobile friendly’. For simplicity (and being based out of the UK), I chose the UK personal auto market and the UK individual life market as my test case. I thought that trying to action this for other markets such as the US, France or Japan from within the UK would produce some strange results owing to my IP address location. So, excited to get going, I simply typed “Motor Insurance Quote” and “Life Insurance Quote” into my mobile. What were the results of this unscientific test? Well, I guess that it will come as no great surprise to readers of Karen Monks’ series on the state of the web/mobile capabilities in the life market; there are more ‘mobile friendly’ sites in personal auto than in life insurance. Ignoring sponsored advertisements, I got to result #13 in personal auto before I hit my first ‘traditional web-site’, which to be fair was not a bad lay-out for a traditional site. With Life, the story was quite different. I only managed to get to #3 before encountering my first traditional site, and this time it was tough to even see where you needed to press to get started on the site from within a mobile device. What do the results of this highly unscientific test tell us? Well, I guess you could argue, that it tells us little new about the UK personal auto insurance market. It’s a highly competitive market that has been subjected to multiple disruptions over the decades, starting with direct operators in the 1980s, then by the aggregators in the 2000s, and now by the telematics insurers. Investing in mobile capabilities, although first seen as an innovation by insurers, has rapidly become a basic requirement for survival in recent years. Consequently, this latest change by Google is unlikely to have a significant effect as the market has already moved. Insurers within this market need to just continue with 'keeping ahead'. However, for Life insurers, it feels like the situation is still very different and potentially ripe for disruption. There is, of course, an argument that says that Life insurers do not need to invest at the same rate in mobile capabilities compared with personal auto as customers still rely more heavily on intermediated channels. However, the counterargument to this is that even though customers may not choose to buy on-line, they may still choose to research a product online first (estimated as c.29% by Celent in 2011 – now likely to be higher). So, could this change by Google be the catalyst the life industry needs to start taking mobile more seriously and invest for the future? Sadly, only time will tell. I think I’ll diary the same unscientific test for a future date to see if there has been any movement…..watch this space!

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