Google's Update Doesn't Spell Doom
There’s something exciting about mashing “Armageddon” and just about any other word. We’ve witnessed this recently with the heavy snowfalls of winter, prompting newscasters to report a “snowmageddon” in some areas. The practice has resurfaced this week with a “mobilegeddon” caused by Google’s search algorithm update this week. While early reports allege even sites for popular brands like M&Ms and Microsoft will be affected, not all content is created equally, and some may find this update will work in their favor.
WHAT IS IT?
On April 21st Google tweaked its search algorithms so that mobile websites would get higher rank over non-mobile sites for searches initiated on a mobile device. This means when users conduct a search via Google on their phones or tablets, mobile-friendly sites will be given a higher search rank – appearing higher in search results – than a similar site that isn’t optimized for mobile.
Considering that according to Forrester Research some 86% of all smartphone users in the U.S. search via Google, this algorithm tweak is significant. For small brands with strong mobile sites, this is an unexpected bonus to their page rank. For any of the estimated 62% of businesses without mobile sites, this is a wake up call to the realities of mobile impact in the business world.
WHY MOBILE ARMAGEDDON?
Despite the exponential growth in mobile usage, many companies still haven’t embraced optimizing sites for mobile audiences. Sometimes it is a case of not wanting to invest money into building a mobile site. Website redesigns can get expensive: even when trying to cut corners by reflowing an existing desktop site into a mobile-friendly edition, the costs add up. When done well, mobile friendly sites have elements such as text legibility without zooming as well as spaced out links, preventing errant taps or “fat finger” errors. These and other mobile features take time, strategic design, and financial investments.
Another common excuse is when businesses or publishers rely solely on their mobile app to cater to mobile audiences. While apps do provide a more intuitive experience native to a user’s particular device, it discounts the prominent mobile web audience. When a potential visitor is conducting a search for more information, mobile websites will be given more importance over a possible mobile app download.
SOME GOOD NEWS FOR WEBSITES, USERS, AND PUBLISHERS
The sensationalism of “mobilegeddon” hints at a belief that Google’s influence is enough to take down a big part of internet industry. But in actuality, it is meant to create a better experience for end users. This measure has prompted quick action by webmasters: Google reports an increase of mobile friendly sites of 4.7% since they announced the impending change two months ago. Considering the number of sites indexed by Google, which is somewhere in the billions, even 4% is outstanding.
Publishers can also breath a sigh of relief if their publications are already mobile-friendly for web apps. For instance, Google considers Nxtbook Media publications to be mobile-friendly because we use HTML5 for mobile versions. So as Google indexes the publication, it will be ranked as a mobile-friendly site.
Publishers can also meet the mobile-friendly challenge by using responsive design. Platforms like Ubiquity meets Google’s mobile optimization qualifications, such as eliminating zooming, panning, and spacing. As the number of mobile devices used to access publishers’ content is increasing exponentially, responsive design is often seen as the best option for publishers. And Google’s decision to double-down its support behind mobile audiences proves the growing need for high-quality mobile solutions beyond native apps.
First, you’ll want to test your site for how Google rates its mobile-friendliness. You can test your site here: http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly
After that, it’s up to you to act on the results. If you see the words “Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly” then you’re all set on this score. Strategically, you might want to consider taking a second look at your SEO efforts to make sure that while you’re among the relative few mobile sites enjoying a rank boost, you’re maximizing your rank with keywords and possibly Adwords.
If you get the message “Not mobile-friendly”, it’s time to get serious about mobile. Start by considering the suggestions that appears on the test page, such as improving text size or link spacing. Then, consider seeking outside help on the best approach to creating a strategic, optimized mobile site. Smartphones, tablets, and even phablets are here to stay: Google’s move to prioritize mobile sites is just external proof of the societal shift to deeper reliance on these tiny computers in our pockets and purses.