Long have website owners and SEOs tried to figure out the inner workings of Google’s search algorithm. With over 200 factors that play into a site’s ranking that are not entirely clear and guidelines that seem to continually change, it can feel like you are aiming at a moving target. While so much of this is unclear, one thing is certain: Google hates a website that offers a poor mobile experience.
Though not a surprise, businesses small and large had mixed reactions as they heard Google’s most recent announcement — starting April 21, 2015 mobile-friendliness will play a much bigger role in mobile search. Those who are optimized for mobile are rejoicing that they might have a leg up on the competition. Those who are not are groaning in misery.
Why Would Google Do This?
While it is easy to get frustrated at Google if you are in a place where your site is not mobile optimized and is unlikely to be in the near future, there are clear reasons why they would make this switch.
I have have often said that many of Google’s decisions can be explained by looking at the impact on their dominance in search. There is a symbiotic relationship between Google and online searchers. Google offers the best results so a search can quickly find what they are looking for, and in turn searchers click on search ads to send revenue to Google and ensure they stay in business. If searchers are not pleased with the results that Google offers up, they will head to Bing or Yahoo or Duck Duck Go.
As 50% of search clicks now come from mobile devices, it is imperative that Google fulfill its end of this bargain by offering mobile searchers not just good results, but results that work for the device the searcher is on. While randomwebsite.com might have incredible content or yourstore.com might have the best products, sending a mobile user to their websites that offer a poor experience on mobile devices does not make sense. Moreover, it disappoints searchers to the point where eventually they will turn to another search engine. Google and their shareholders do not want this to happen.
How to Test and Know if Your Site is “Mobile Friendly”
While “mobile friendly” may seem quite subjective, Google Webmaster Tools actually offers a convenient mobile usability tool to review the basics of how your website is optimized for mobile. Check it out.
Why Would a Site Not Choose to Upgrade?
The first question that comes to mind is: why would a website not simply make the necessary changes?
Usually it is not a matter of wanting to upgrade or not, but moreso a matter of the challenges associated with moving to a mobile friendly design. While a small WordPress site might just install a free, responsive theme in minutes, it is much more complicated for others.
Reasons websites are not made mobile friendly include:
- They cannot afford the cost of the associated web development
- The site is so large and the content so diverse that it is a massive project
- They do not have the time to manage the transition
- Their existing CMS or ecommerce platform that has much invested into it (including many costly third party integrations that are business critical) does not have the capability to truly be mobile friendly
What Are Your Options to Make Your Website Mobile Friendly?
Generally speaking, you have 3 options:
- Do nothing – stick with the desktop-only version
- Add a separate mobile site
- Redesign or convert your site responsive web design
These options are listed in order of worst to best. Doing nothing and sticking with a desktop only site is generally not a good option. A separate mobile site (whether on a subdomain or using the same URLs) is the next best option. Results here can vary significantly depending if things are set up properly or not. Finally, a responsive website — where a single set of code allows your site to adapt to the various devices, sizes, and resolutions of your visitors — is the best option. Google themselves have pushed for this particular solution.
I realize that while it is really easy to say a site should be mobile friendly, achieving it can be much harder. Some of the challenges mentioned above — finances, complexity, time, platform limitations — can significantly impact your ability to move forward. The reality, however, is that if your website is not mobile friendly, you need to do something if you want to get mobile visitors from organic search results.
With such a great percentage of search coming via mobile devices, the stakes are high. If you don’t attract visibility on mobile, you can bet your competitors will. Like it or not, the time to go mobile friendly is now — errrh, actually it was a couple years ago — but if you still have not done so, let this be the impetus for you to make the necessary changes. Even if you cannot update your website by April 21, make a plan and get started. Visitors are (usually) looking for what your site offers. You just have to package the best of who you are in a way that they can find it and engage with it.
So, yes, Google hates your poor mobile experience. But maybe you should too.