Last week Google changed the rules about how websites must be designed to make Google happy and have your website rank high in search results. The “mobile friendly update” – or Mobilegeddon, as it was dubbed by tech journalists and SEO specialists – is not quite an apocalyptic change but it does give small business owners one more thing to worry about.
The summary: Google changed its algorithms to downgrade websites in search results if they are not designed to be “mobile friendly.” In other words, if your website doesn’t look good on a phone in Google’s opinion, then it will not come up as high in a search as other websites.
That’s awful, right? Nothing matters for your website except how it ranks in Google searches, or at least it seems that way sometimes.
Fortunately, there are a number of reasons that this isn’t quite as significant as it sounds.
What is a mobile friendly website?
In simplest terms, a website is mobile friendly if it looks good on a phone. There are a number of things that Google evaluates: the page should load fast, be easy to navigate (menus that collapse to take less room, for example), have links that are not too close together, use text that flows on a smaller screen so the site does not require horizontal scrolling, and more.
Take a look at a visual example. Visit Bruceb Favorites on your computer, then grab your phone and go to the same page, www.brucebfavorites.com. It’s all the same page, but obviously many things change as the screen gets smaller. You can actually watch things transform on your computer if you grab the right side of the window and move it to the left, making the window more narrow.
Now go to your business website on your phone. Can you read the text, or does it spill off the right side of the screen? Are the links finger-friendly, or are they too small?
Google will test your site and report on exactly what it thinks. You can put any URL into the Google Mobile Friendly Test. Try it! If you’re lucky, it will say that your site is mobile friendly. Otherwise it will show you what your website looks like on a phone, and it will give you a detailed description of issues that might need to be fixed. You will find it depressing if your website hasn’t been redesigned in the last couple of years or if your web designer did not have this in mind.
Why does it matter?
Put Google aside. The simple reality is that we are using our phones more than our computers to do almost everything, including web searches. There are dozens of ways to slice and dice the statistics but your clients, your potential customers, and your colleagues are looking for you on their phones in ever greater numbers.
Here’s a collection of statistics from last year – the percentage of web browsing on phones has been scaling up rapidly for years, up sharply in the US to be a quarter of all Internet access last year and rising fast. Almost a third of all Black Friday online sales last year came from mobile devices, matching the general trends that retailers are experiencing. You’ll discover the same result no matter how you look. If you had analytics on your website, you’d be astonished how many people are viewing it from a phone instead of a computer.
If you don’t offer visitors a good experience on a small screen, they’ll be unhappy and at worst they’ll take their business elsewhere.
What is Google doing to websites that are not mobile friendly?
Google occasionally makes deliberate changes to influence the way websites are designed. In February it announced that it would begin to favor mobile friendly websites on April 21 as a way to encourage designers to make responsive websites and improve everyone’s online experience. Google’s influence is so vast that this caused earthquakes in the SEO world and caused big companies to leap to attention.
You’re not a big company. There are three things to keep in mind.
Results from searches done on a computer are unchanged. This only affects searches done from a mobile device.
If someone searches for your website by name, they will find it. Google does not want to make its results seem less useful; it knows that people looking for you by name want to find you, not someone else. This isn’t meant to be a penalty.
Early analyses suggest that the change in search results is not dramatic – five or ten percent variations, not wild swings where websites drop completely out of sight.
You can get more information in this FAQ from SearchEngineLand, which has been closely covering Mobilegeddon.
How do I make a website mobile friendly?
The bad news is that the features that make a site mobile friendly are difficult to shoehorn into the site you already have. It’s likely to require a complete makeover, more or less redesigning the site from scratch. If your website is built on WordPress but is not yet mobile friendly, your designer might be able to rebuild it on a responsive theme, but hand-coded websites will need a lot of work, expensive work, or possibly a shift to a completely different platform like WordPress or SquareSpace.
That’s why the final takeaway is:
Make your website mobile friendly. It’s good for your clients and it’s good for your Google ranking.
Procrastination is an option. Google has changed the rules but don’t panic.