What Google’s Mobile Friendly Update Means

The blogosphere is alive with the news that Google has tweaked its page ranking algorithm to favour mobile-friendly websites in mobile search rankings. The change has profound implications for online marketers, for whom online visibility is hugely important. Should you be concerned about this change and how will it impact your business?

Google’s recent announcement that it will give priority in its mobile search page rankings to those websites that display well on smartphones has important consequences. Effective April 21st, 2015, this change, dubbed Mobilegeddon by the more alarmist commentators, represents a radical change to the way Google and, by extension, users view the internet, favouring “mobile-friendly” sites over those that are not in searches conducted on mobile phones. While the move does not directly impact Exponential-E, it is important that our customers at least know what all the hullabaloo is about.

How to find out if your site is mobile friendly

First of all, before you read further, you can quickly check whether your site is mobile friendly by following these steps.

1. Simply visit this page here.

2. Insert your website URL here.

Within 10 seconds, you will know whether your site is mobile friendly based on criteria such as whether the links on your home page are too close together, whether the buttons are legible for users and much more.

However, whether your site is mobile friendly or not, please do not panic; read on.

Why is Google making this change?

The justification for this particular change is consistent with Google’s justification for any changes to their search algorithm; namely that Google wants to deliver the best experience for its users. For the first time ever UK adults spend more time online using mobile devices than using desktop and laptop computers, according to eMarketer. Web developers have long encouraged their clients to adopt a “mobile first” strategy when it comes to developing websites. So Google has decided that being able to tap on a home page without accidently opening random pages is critical to a good user experience. Makes sense! Having a site that is mobile-friendly is now essential if your business would benefit from having Google serve mobile traffic to your website pages.

Why this change matters to your business?

Like it or not, Google is currently the de facto gatekeeper to the web. It accounts for an 88% share of web searches made from desktop PCs in the UK and a phenomenal 94% share of mobile searches, according to website analytics firm StatCounter. Dominance of mobile search is essential for Google because the future growth of the internet is now being driven by mobile use. It is critical to note that only mobile traffic will be effected by this change so if you do not count on mobile traffic for site visits this will not be as critical.

While it is important to understand the repercussions of Google’s move, businesses also need to keep things in perspective. Websites that have been built in the last couple of years may already be mobile friendly or can easily be made so. If your site is informational and consists of a few static web pages, then the changes required to make it mobile friendly are relatively trivial. If it uses a blogging platform like WordPress, choose a new “responsive” theme and the site will automatically display well on mobile devices.

The bigger you are the harder you fall

If your website contains a large number of pages or has dynamic content such as an e-commerce site, one possible option is to create a second “mobile only” website — m.wikipedia.org is the mobile-only version of Wikipedia, for example. The mobile-only site need only have a subset of the content on the main site, and this option will cause fewer headaches than having to adapt every page on the main site to ensure it is mobile friendly.

The mobile friendliness change is particularly important for internet publishers, e-commerce sites and other businesses that heavily rely on Google for drive traffic to their site. Even some of the most popular destinations on the web could be caught out by Google’s move. For example, the Mail Online, the largest English-language news site in the world, risks being penalised by Google’s new algorithm, according to a Guardian report. The Mail Online’s home page has a number of issues that prevent it from being mobile-friendly, including text that is too small to read easily on a smartphone and links that are too close together to click accurately. So presumably, their search traffic coming from mobile searches will be dropping as Google rolls out this solution.

How important is mobile search to your site?

Before getting too concerned about Google’s new “mobile first” strategy, you should first decide just how significant mobile search traffic is for your site. In a competitive localised market like pizza restaurants, getting that coveted “mobile-friendly” tag on your Google listing could be very important. It means you have more chance of attracting “walk in” customers as you should be listed higher than “mobile-unfriendly” pizza restaurants in the same neighbourhood when people search for “pizza” on their smartphones. Over time, you will want to ensure that your site is mobile friendly as you will be missing an increasingly significant portion of search traffic.

If your web agency has not already pitched the idea of making your site mobile friendly then they will surely do so in light of this update. However, it is important to note that having a responsive mobile site is not necessarily the most important web development investment, especially if most of your traffic is still acquired via desktop.

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