In 2013, Google began experimenting with its algorithm's ability to sniff out sites optimized for mobile, which tipped off most SEOs as to the rapidly approaching need for a responsive website. Beginning April 21, 2015, changes to Google's search algorithm will have a worldwide impact on sites not optimized for mobile, leaving those unprepared scrambling to implement mobile-friendly changes. Unless you want to gamble with Google, now is the time to check your site and make necessary changes.
When Google made the announcement in late February, there was a sense of panic among many business owners with high-ranking websites. However, as the dust has settled, things are becoming a little clearer and the majority of people are realizing that they'll be fine. While there's an entire blog post dedicated to the change, here are the two things you really need to know:
- Starting April 21, Google will be increasing reliance on mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal for mobile searches in all languages worldwide with the goal of increasing UX and content relevancy. What Google did not say is that desktop searches will be affected. As of now, only mobile search rankings will be affected.
- The second part of the announcement said that, "Starting today we will begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed." In other words, if you're signed into an app on your mobile device, related information will take precedence over unrelated search results.
While the second announcement shouldn't be glossed over, it doesn't pertain to most people. The first announcement, though, could potentially affect anyone with a website. According to Ian Mills of Magicdust Web Design, "Websites lacking a responsive design are destined to get pushed to the bottom of the heap once Google's update goes live."
What's interesting is that Google gave a heads up. This is something they have never done with any of their prior algorithm changes and likely says something about the seriousness of this issue. Ultimately, you have two options to make your website mobile-friendly:
- Build a mobile site. The first option is to actually build a mobile site to mirror your existing desktop site. This is the cheapest option, but can be a pain because of the fact that it's technically a separate website. You can't just copy and paste existing content, or you'll likely be hit with a duplicate content penalty.
- Invest in responsive design. The second option is to invest in responsive design. This will cost a little more on the front end, but allows you to maintain the same website on all devices. It simply lets your site adapt to the screen it's being accessed on.
If your budget allows for it, go with the latter option. (This resource by Google shows you why responsive web designed is the preferred option). However, if your budget doesn't allow for it, you need to at least build a mobile site.
Google doesn't want to penalize websites. The goal behind this change is to gently encourage websites to develop pages that are more mobile-friendly. That's why they've provided ample resources to help facilitate these shifts. For example, you can easily test your website's mobile-friendliness using this Mobile-Friendly Test. Furthermore, Google has clearly outlined what it considers mobile-friendly criteria:
- Must avoid software that's not common on mobile devices (i.e. Flash).
- Content must be formatted and sized so that users don't have to zoom or scroll horizontally.
- Must use text that's readable on mobile screens - without zooming.
- Links must be far enough apart that they can be accurately tapped or selected.
The good news is that responsive design handles each of these issues automatically. It offers visitors the highest UX possible and helps your brand remain consistent, regardless of whether it's being accessed on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, mobile phone, or other device.
Additionally, responsive web design is the easiest option because it allows you to consolidate resources into a single platform. When things need to be updated, all you have to do is make one change. This is more cost-effective and practical from a long-term perspective.
The moral of the story is that you need to take Google seriously. If Mitul Gandhi of seoClarity is to be believed, mobile traffic makes up approximately 30 percent of all website traffic - regardless of the industry. Assuming Google hits websites that don't comply pretty hard, you're essentially wishing away one out of every three website visitors by not optimizing for mobile devices.
The full extent of the fallout won't be known until April 21 and the following weeks, but all signs indicate that it will be a significant ordeal. After reading Google's announcement, this article, and the slew of other resources on the internet, you have no excuse for not adapting.
Unless you want to take your chances and see what kind of impact Google's new announcement will have after implementation, now is the time to respond. It's important to take a proactive stance on this issue - not a reactive one. Thankfully, Google has allowed for plenty of time to adjust. You still have a few weeks before the changes go live, so check your site, make changes, and you'll be just fine.
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