The deadline for websites to get mobile-friendly is fast approaching. While many business owners and web developers were aware of Google’s encouragement to make everyone’s websites friendlier for mobile devices, the announcement Google issued at the end of February made it official.
Beginning on April 21, sites that Google considers to be mobile-friendly will yield better search results. It will be the latest update to Google’s complex search algorithm. The new version will use mobile-friendliness as a major factor and ranking signal.
The basic idea is that searches conducted on mobile devices will rank those sites that have been developed for the mobile world higher than sites that aren’t geared in the same way. The same update will also use Big Data analytics to take into account the apps on the user’s smart device and reflect relevant content related to their apps in the search results.
Business Impact of Mobile-geddon
From Google’s announcement, it’s pretty obvious this is going to lead to some major changes in how search results shake out. Many businesses and website designers have already been on alert for this possibility, but as the discussion continues over what just what kind of impact this new version will have, it’s important to distinguish between what the update is and what it isn’t.
Perhaps most important, by all accounts, this update to Google rankings does not represent a penalty to sites considered unfriendly to mobile devices. Rather, it’s a way to boost rankings for those sites that are mobile-friendly, particularly for people searching on a smartphone or tablet.
Ultimately though, whether some want to call it a boost or a penalty, the difference might not matter so much. According to several leading SEO experts, sites that Google has determined to be incompatible with mobile devices may suffer a 20 to 30 percent hit to their overall traffic. For a business of any size, that’s a major blow. Yes, the update might not technically be a penalty, but if a company doesn’t have a mobile-ready site, it might as well be.
This is all the more reason web developers should be on top of creating mobile-friendly sites for their companies, and luckily, many have. Mobile devices have grown in number, and more people are using them now than ever before. That also means they’re using Google search for any number of reasons. The prevalence and growth of the mobile device marketplace is a large reason why Google is pushing this update in the first place.
In effect, Google is working to make sure searches are optimized for mobile customers, so it makes sense they would want to make searches easy, convenient, and the most relevant for people depending on what they’re using to search. The update also represents a not-so-subtle way to urge web developers to ensure their sites are able to function best with a host of different mobile devices.
What does this mean to my company site?
The overall impact this has on websites will largely be determined by how much of their traffic comes from mobile devices in the first place. By all accounts, it appears the Google update will not affect searches conducted from desktop computers, so if the vast majority of traffic comes from desktops, the impact will be minor.
Basing a decision on current web traffic patterns, however, might not be the best decision. Future trends show that mobile traffic is increasing: in this study, we learned in November 2014, mobile traffic surpassed the quantity of visits from desktop, marking the turning point on the way to mobile dominance for Google. So even if a site doesn’t receive a lot of traffic from mobile devices today, that might not be true in a few years.
At the same time, small businesses will likely need to study what return on investment they would get from making their sites more mobile-friendly. The percentage of site visitors who purchase a product from a mobile device is actually quite low. Some businesses may not see developing a mobile-friendly site as worth it for now.
The alerts are out there, and now it’s up to businesses to make their sites friendlier for mobile devices or find themselves at a disadvantage in Google search results.
It’s important to understand, though, that the April 21 deadline isn’t a do-or-die date. Google’s new algorithm will be implemented in real-time, so even after the deadline, a business can update their site and immediately receive the benefits.
Ultimately, making a website mobile-friendly just makes smart business sense, even if it isn’t reflected in Google’s rankings. As more people use mobile devices, they’ll want to be lead to sites that are easily viewed and handled on a smartphone or tablet. Google’s push for mobile-friendliness is merely a response to current trends (like BYOD) and customer demands, signalling the need for other businesses to get with the times and enter the mobile world.
If you’re unsure how to redesign your site to responsive or adaptive, read this report on the two paths to site mobile-friendliness.