Now that the dust has settled on the roll out of Google’s new, mobile-friendly ranking algorithm, it’s time to evaluate the implications. The lead up to the April 21st launch date was fraught to say the least, and the blogosphere heaved with a buzz of dire predictions about just how badly website owners might be affected by Mobilegeddon – one of the more dramatic of the nicknames assigned to Google’s decision to increase the importance of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.
Although reports are beginning to trickle in, it’s not yet possible to make a complete assessment of the effect the change has had. While the experts decide, I’d like to help you focus on your own situation.
For some months prior to the launch, and in numerous forums, Google communicated clearly that the update was a response to 60% of traffic coming from mobile devices, and was premised on “helping users discover more mobile-friendly content”. It was confirmed that the new algorithm would:
- affect only searches from mobile phones, not those from desktop computers or tablets
- boost mobile-friendly pages in Google SERP rankings arising from those searches
Panda and Penguin
Based on some website owners’ traumatic experiences with the 2011 and 2012 Panda and Penguin updates which saw websites literally banished to Internet purgatory, the fear of another apocalypse was perhaps understandable. Fortunately it seems it may be unwarranted this time around.
Unless you’re worried that your users will banish you to Purgatory themselves because your site is simply impossible to navigate from their mobile phone.
The thing is that Google will not actually delist your site if it’s not mobile friendly. Of course, it stands to lose a yet-to-be-quantified proportion of its pre update foothold in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) rankings if it’s not mobile friendly – which is serious enough. But rankings apart, the advent of Mobilegeddon is also an opportunity to reassess the experience your site is offering to your users, and to ensure that it’s a good one!
As more and more mobile phones are shipped every year, the chances of your site being accessed via mobile at some point in the decision process simply increase, regardless of what you’re selling. For that reason alone, and not just because Google says so, your site absolutely must be mobile-friendly.
Characteristics of a mobile friendly website
A mobile-friendly website will have been expressly designed to give users the best experience possible, regardless of the device they are using to view it with. Plugging in your URL at the Google test site https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/ will let you know in an instant whether or not your site is mobile-friendly.
If it’s not, chances are your users will be experiencing some or all of these frustrations:
- They need to scroll left and right, top and bottom to see navigation or content.
- Navigation markers and calls to action are too small to be manipulated individually.
- They zoom in and out continuously in an effort to view content.
- If they manage to click on phone numbers or addresses, nothing happens.
- Forms cannot be filled out.
Your friendliness options
To provide users with a great experience on a mobile device you have two options essentially:
By far the best of these is to create a responsive website with flexible layouts which adapt to the screen the website is being displayed on. The result is a consistent user experience across all devices and if you’re starting from scratch, this is absolutely the thing to do. At some expense, it may also be possible to make at least specific pages of your existing website responsive. Talk to your IT providers about the possibilities and associated costs.
If rebuilding your current website to be mobile friendly is not an option, the alternative is to create a separate mobile version with its own URL. It won’t provide quite the same experience as the desktop version, being much simplified and quite Spartan, and there are various SEO ramifications, but as a relatively quick fix it’s certainly preferable to leaving things as they are.
The advantages of responsive web design
As long ago as April 2012, Google published a blog post entitled “Responsive Design – Harnessing the Power of Media Queries”. http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.it/2012/04/responsive-design-harnessing-power-of.html Along with these recommendations and in an associated post http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.it/2012/06/recommendations-for-building-smartphone.html
the company described the advantages of responsive design in keeping desktop and mobile content on a single URL:
- ….(It’s) easier for your users to interact with, share, and link to
- ….and for Google’s algorithms to assign the indexing properties to
To my mind, the writing has been on the wall for a long time. Rather than being an algorithm change to fear and fret over, Mobilgeddon is a timely reminder of the importance that companies should attribute to user experience in attracting buyers, building loyalty and ensuring long term business success.
Having said that, it’s interesting to consider what the move to mobile will mean for trusted content which is not and never will be mobile friendly. Here’s a great post on the topic http://searchengineland.com/mobilegeddon-me-my-20-year-old-website-is-about-to-get-zapped-by-googles-mobile-friendly-update-219350