Mobile Readiness for Google; The What, When and How
Google has recently made some announcements that have caused shockwaves throughout the online landscape. Business and website owners who depend on traffic from Google are now scrambling to adhere to the new guidelines and ranking factors.
In today’s article, we’re going to review what’s been announced, when you need to have your site ready, and how you can actually accomplish that.
The purpose of this post is actually not to frighten or alarm. Quite the opposite in fact. While it’s true that we’re a society increasingly dependent on mobile technology for our web consumption, this deadline from Google is not the Zombiepocalypse some have made it out to be.
For many of you, in fact, Google’s deadline will come and go and have no bearing whatsoever on your website, search engine ranking, or referral traffic.
So let’s talk about what’s been stated and recommended and go from there.
WHAT is Google Saying?
Before we review Google’s official announcement, a little bit of history is in order. We don’t need to go too far back though… only to the Summer of 2012. At that time, Google had been recommending to businesses for a while that mobile was becoming increasingly important. They’d released a widget to help check sites the previous year, and decided it was time to spell things out for webmasters.
In this article, Recommendations for building smartphone-optimized websites, Google clearly stated that it preferred websites that used what’s called a “One-URL” method to deliver mobile content. This was in response to many businesses who would add a mobile “version” of their website, typically dumbed down to just some basic information and contact data, and often using a URL of m.yourdomain.com. The preferred method is commonly referred to as Responsive Design. A website that has a responsive design is one where the design is able to adapt the display of elements based on the size and type of device being used by each individual user. Users viewing a site on desktop might see full sidebars and assorted blocks, while a user on a mobile device might find those blocks stacked below content or completely hidden.
And more than just a recommendation, this was rolled out as a ranking factor by Google not long after (Changes in rankings of smartphone search results). Websites that were not “mobile-friendly” would not rank as high for mobile users as perhaps other sites that were, in fact, mobile optimized.
Did you catch that? Ranking of mobile websites over non-mobile websites for mobile Google users has been in place for over a year.
WHY is Google Stressing Mobile?
I’ve inserted a “Why” in here because I think it’s important and relevant for business owners to understand this point. Sorry if that threw you off.
Google tracks every search that’s performed on their site by every user. Google knows not just what you’re searching for, but where you are and the device that you’re using to perform that search. Over time, Google has noted two things:
- A rising trend in mobile device usage.
- A tendency of mobile users to be dissatisfied with non-mobile results and websites.
Generally, people who are doing a Google search on their phone and click through to a site that isn’t mobile friendly will, at best, have to zoom in or out to read the content they’re looking for, and at worst, won’t be able to call up the site at all. Most sites are probably somewhere in between, with images that take too long to load, links that aren’t easily tappable as opposed to clickable, and so on.
As a result, these users tend to tap the Back button on their mobile browser and look for a different result that’s more easily consumed.
But what happens once you’ve tried a few sites and none present a good enough experience for you to get the information you’re looking for? You’ll likely give up and consider an alternate means of finding what you were looking for.
And the minute you give up and leave Google, you stop being a Google User, for the moment at least. Since Google depends on you for your usage and data in order to make money from advertisers, that’s an unacceptable response.
So, Google is doing what it can to force businesses to create excellent experiences for their mobile visitors, and will reward those businesses by ranking their websites above their competitors within mobile search results.
(As for responsive vs. mobile versions, there are quite a few technical reasons which make responsive a superior solution, but it once again boils down to user experience. If I see a blog post that you’ve written and shared to Google+, but then click through to your site only to be presented with a mobile version that doesn’t include the blog, that’s a horrible user experience. Instead, Google wants sites to have all content within the same domain and the same dynamic design, so that the information is available and accessible regardless of where the user is coming from or what they’re using to view the site.)
WHEN is Google’s Deadline?
That brings us to today, and specifically, to Google’s announcement on Feb. 26. Google has stated that as of April 21st, they “will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.”
What does that mean? Will my non-mobile site be penalized? What does “expanding” mean?
While that’s about the extent of the official language from Google, the only other indicating comment is the statement that “This change will […] have a significant impact in our search results.”
So that means that they’re taking the existing ranking factor and making it more important. How much more important we’ll never know, but the “significant impact” part is what has people running and screaming.
But clearly, it’s in every business’s best interests to implement a responsive version of their website so that they can take advantage of the latest change in Google’s algorithm.
Or is it?
HOW do Businesses Appease Google?
Before you panic, there’s some analysis that needs to take place. Keep the following facts in mind:
Number One: This change will only impact mobile search results. Desktop search results will remain unaffected.
Number Two: This change will impact all website owners.
So the first thing you need to consider is whether your site is currently getting any mobile traffic at all right now. If it isn’t, then the deadline won’t mean anything to you.
Next, consider if mobile traffic has value to your business. If it’s unlikely that any mobile visitor would be a prospect, then again, the deadline won’t mean anything to you.
Finally, keep an eye on your competition. If none of your competitors are mobile-friendly, then that’s a great motivation to go ahead and update your site anyway as you might end up ranking above them, but then it’s not the April 21 deadline that’s motivating you, but rather, what everyone else is doing.
If you’re using Google Analytics, you can easily tell if you’re getting mobile traffic or not. Log into your account and…
- Click on Audience in the left menu.
- Click on Mobile and Overview.
- Change the Date Range in the upper right to whatever period you want to examine.
- Click the checkbox next to Mobile below the graph.
- Click on Plot Rows.
- View your mobile traffic as compared to your site’s overall traffic, day by day, week by week.
Is it significant? Is it trending up? That will give you an indication of how much mobile traffic you’re getting now.
And if you click on Secondary Dimension, you can choose Behavior and select Destination Page. Your traffic data will now expand to include specific page URLs, allowing you to see exactly which parts of your site are most commonly visited by mobile users.
Assuming that you’re getting mobile traffic and that those visitors are potentially important to your business, then it’s time to make some decisions.
If you’re a SiteSell customer, you may already be set. Our customers have long had Mobilize It!, a built-in module that at the flip of a switch automatically optimizes your website for proper viewing on a variety of mobile devices (amongst other unique features).
SiteSell has recently confirmed that Mobilize It! enabled sites pass Google’s tests, and is continuing to update the module to take the sites from passing the test, to Google loving it!.
Note: For SiteSell customers still using the legacy BB1 building tool, options are being explored to help those sites, but my recommendation would be for those who have been putting off converting their sites to the “new” BB2 platform (it has been 3+ yrs), that now would be the opportune time to do so.
For everyone else, depending on your website and the platform on which it was built, you may have a few options to choose from. WordPress users, for instance may not need to rebuild a completely new website, purchasing and installing a new theme that is responsive should make your site mobile friendly. Of course, if you’ve invested in a custom designed theme, there will be some additional work required to customize a new theme. The SiteSell Professionals can assist with that if you need a hand.
Whether you’ve got a mobile-friendly site already, or have one developed, the final step is to check the site with Google and resolve any errors indicated. Google has a Mobile-Friendly Test that you can run, and additional documentation.
I can’t stress enough that there is no reason to panic. This change is important, of course, and for some businesses it might even be critical. But the solutions are all workable, and the result will not only benefit your Google rankings, but your user experience for mobile visitors as well, which could lead to more contacts and sales.
Take the time to analyze your unique situation and to come up with an approach that makes the most sense for your business.
If you haven’t already, please sign up for our newsletter. We will be talking about mobile readiness and responsive design and related topics all this month. And of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that if you haven’t yet created your online business website, SiteSell’s SBI! is an excellent platform, designed specifically for online solopreneurs.