Website owners beware. Google is on the warpath again. This time the search engine giant wants websites to be more mobile-friendly. And it’s deadly serious. From April 21st Google will start rolling out a major update to reward websites that are mobile-friendly with higher rankings in mobile search results. This means that owners of websites without a responsive design or a mobile-friendly version may see their mobile search rankings drop – quite substantially.
In case you missed the news, here is the crux of Google’s announcement:
Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.
The good news is that Google has given plenty of warning so website owners can take the necessary steps to make their sites more mobile-friendly. And the best way to achieve this – as recommended by Google itself – is with a responsive website design.
Responsive design is a fluid design structure which means the website adapts to display perfectly on any screen size, meaning quality user experience is maintained whether on desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Every Google update causes a flurry of excitement as webmasters and SEO experts scramble to make sense of the algorithm change to patch up their internet marketing efforts to maintain or improve their search engine positioning. But Google’s mobile update is unique in that it is a direct, clear instruction – if you want your website found in mobile search it has to be mobile-friendly.
Truth be told, this update has been a long time coming. Web analysts have been telling us for years that smartphones are taking over; that they will one day overtake desktop usage. And these days are now upon us as over half of us regularly use mobile phones and tablets to access the internet, preferring the freedom and comfort of a handheld device over the shackles of a desktop computer.
Google has also been gearing up for this for a long time and last year started displaying ‘mobile-friendly’ labels next to qualifying websites in the mobile search results, thereby shepherding users towards sites which give them a better user experience on smart phones.
For website owners who have been sitting on the fence about adopting a mobile friendly responsive design, now is the time to jump. To be found by customers in this mobile age, websites need to offer the best possible display for users on phones and tablets. This is even more important for local businesses as mobile usage for local searches is through the roof. Google’s own research into mobile phone usage states:
Appearing on smartphones is critical for local businesses. 94% of smartphone users look for local information on their phone and 84% take action as a result, such as making a purchase or contacting the business.
So now we have established that a mobile-friendliness is critical for success in mobile searches, how do we go about fixing the issue?
It goes without saying, that there is no need to panic if your website is already mobile-friendly. Many businesses made the sensible decision to ‘go mobile’ using responsive design years ago. For those who are unsure whether their websites are mobile-friendly or not, Google has this handy testing tool. The other place to look is Google Webmaster Tools if you have this set up for your website. Here you can get a full mobile usability report, together with tips on fixing any major issues.
Of course you could just look at your website on a mobile device. If everything looks small, it’s difficult to click on the links or you need to scroll sideways to view part of the page, then it is not very mobile-friendly and you need to take action. Or you could use the cleverly named responsinator tool to see how your website appears on various devices.
There are two options for making a standard website mobile friendly. The simplest, cheapest and quickest way is to make a new, stripped down version of the website just for mobile users. This can even be achieved automatically in some content management systems. WordPress, for example, has the excellent WP Touch plugin which transforms the site’s content into a mobile format using its excellent mobile themes.
But the best option, which is preferred by Google and the best long-term solution recommended by web designers, is to create a new, responsive design so that the website magically shifts shape to fit any screen size. This takes more time and can be costly, but the investment will quickly pay off thanks to improved mobile search presence and optimised display for users.
Get ready for Google’s April 21st mobile deadline. If you need help configuring or redesigning your website to make it mobile-friendly, please get in touch.