Over the course of any given year, Google will make 500–600 changes to its web search algorithm. While most of these changes are minor, Google will occasionally make a “major” algorithmic change that will affect search results in a significant way. On April 21, 2015 Google will be implementing one of these significant changes, and it is going to affect all websites that are not considered mobile-friendly.
What this means is that companies who have yet to make mobile-friendly versions of their website a priority may be penalized in Google search results regardless of how much time, money and effort they have invested in the search engine optimization of their website.
Naturally, companies are concerned and have a lot of questions. Below are answers to the most sought-after questions companies like yours are asking.
Question 1: What Exactly is Google Doing?
On April 21, Google will be making an algorithm change that favors and rewards companies whose websites are mobile-friendly. This means that if your website is not currently optimized for mobile devices, your site’s ranking will likely be negatively impacted.
“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.”
Question 2: What is a “Mobile-Friendly” Website?
A mobile-friendly website is a website that automatically reformats when someone views the site on a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet (i.e., iPad).
A website or web page is considered “mobile-friendly” if it meets the following criteria as detected by Google:
- Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
- Uses text that is readable without zooming
- Sizes content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
- Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped
There are essentially two types of mobile-friendly websites:
- Responsive Design Websites
Responsive designed websites automatically take the content and various features of a standard website and reformats it to fit all screen sizes, allowing website visitors to easily interact with the site, no matter what device they’re using.
- Mobile Specific Websites
Mobile specific websites are abbreviated versions of a standard website. They include only the functionality and content deemed most necessary for a mobile user but are designed to properly fit the screen size of a mobile device.
Question 3: Why is Google Doing This?
Google has made it their mission to focus on building user trust and industry proficiency when it comes to online search. As part of their process, they have found that their users are often mobile-first or even mobile-only when browsing for information. As such, they have determined that websites need to follow suit in order to deliver the right context to searchers. Google will be rewarding companies who are supplying the best information through mobile-friendly websites by providing them with better/higher search ranking listings. Consequently, they will be penalizing those that don’t.
Question 4: What Does this Mean for My Website?
This change will seriously affect every business on the web, both large and small. While the exact impact is not known just yet, it seems that those that have a mobile-friendly website will benefit and those that don’t may be penalized.
In his speech at Search Marketing Expo, Gary Ilyes, webmaster trends analyst at Google, would not say if sites would receive a penalty for not being mobile ready by April 21, but he did stress that it is “a very important day”. That doesn’t sound great for sites that are mobile device impaired.
Question 5: What Should I Be Doing Now?
The first thing to do is make sure every page of your site is mobile-friendly through either responsive design or a mobile specific version of your site. Checking every page is imperative, because Google determines mobile-friendliness on a page-by-page basis, so only checking just a few of the main pages may not tell the whole story.
You can test to see your website’s mobile friendliness by clicking here. If your site doesn’t pass Google’s test, it will likely lose visibility on searches conducted on mobile devices.
Question 6: What Should I Do If My Website is Not Mobile Friendly?
If it is important to your business that you build and maintain your web rankings on Google, you’ll need to invest in a mobile version of your website. This can be approached a few different ways:
- “Bite-sized” Approach
To start, Google is only evaluating individual pages rather than entire sites, so there is an opportunity to mobile optimize your website in “bite-sized” chunks. Under this approach, you would only convert the most important pages of your website to a mobile-friendly format.
- Mobile Specific Website
A mobile specific version of your website is an abbreviated form of your current site. It would include only the most essential functionality and content deemed necessary for a mobile user (i.e., products, services, office locations, phone numbers, etc.). This is typically a less expensive option than creating a responsive redesign of your website, but does not provide as robust of a user experience.
- Responsive Design Website
Responsively designed websites automatically take the content and various features of your website and reformats it to fit across all screen sizes. This allows website visitors to easily interact with the site no matter what device they are using. This is typically the most expensive option, but it is considered best practice. If your current website is outdated and due for a complete redesign anyway, this would be the option that makes the most sense.
We’ll continue to monitor what Google is doing around mobile-friendly websites and advise you on updates as they become available. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about how to develop a mobile-friendly website for your company, feel free to send us a message or give us a call at 440-449-6800.