Fortunes are made and lost on the Web via traffic from search engines. In the United States Google accounts for close to 65% of all search traffic, so when the search giant makes an announcement, website managers take notice.
Dubbed by some as "Mobilegeddon," beginning April 21, 2015, Google will be expanding its use of what the search behemoth refers to as "mobile-friendliness" as a factor for ranking websites for mobile searches. Google has not indicated whether mobile-friendliness will be used as a factor for ranking websites for desktop searches.
Mobilegeddon: What is changing?
Following this update, Google will penalize websites that are not mobile-friendly, and thus mobile-friendly may experience an improvement in their Search Engine Results Page (SERP) ranking for mobile search, while “mobile-unfriendly” websites may experience a decline in their SERP ranking.
The difference between being penalized by Google for not being Mobile-Friendly could mean the difference between being on the first page of SERPs and the 10th page of SERPs and a corresponding difference in click-throughs.
Search Engine Results & Signals
Every major search engine utilizes their own proprietary formula for ranking website pages for specific search terms. These algorithms determine how well a page displayed in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for a specific search term (i.e. are you number one, displayed on the first page or number thirty-seven displaying on page four).
These algorithms are regularly changed from time to time; to both adjust to changes in technology, as well as to stay ahead of those who attempt to game the system.
Google itself claims to currently use over 200 different signals in determining SERP ranking for a given webpage. In this case, mobile-friendly is not a new signal, but an existing one that will be given far more weight.
What makes a website mobile friendly (according to Google)?
Google defines a mobile friendly page as:
A page is eligible for the “mobile-friendly” label if it meets the following criteria as detected by Googlebot:
- Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
- Uses text that is readable without zooming
- Sizes content to the screen so users don't have to scroll horizontally or zoom
- Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped
There are a variety of potential approaches for providing a mobile-friendly experience, including Dedicated Mobile Websites, Compiled Mobile Apps, and Responsive/Adaptive Web Design.
- Dedicated Mobile Websites: With the release of the original iPhone and iOS 1.0 in 1997, mobile website development took off. In early implementations, mobile users are redirected to a separate mobile-optimized website, rather than the separate desktop website, based upon the device identified by its browser. Mobile Websites require careful coordination with their corresponding Desktop Websites to ensure that they do not compete for the same SERP position. They are also difficult to insure links from desktop and mobile versions lead to the correct corresponding page, and Google will penalize sites that don’t do this correctly!
- Compiled Mobile Apps: When Apple opened app development to third-party developers with the release of iOS 2.0 in 1998, many turned to dedicated apps to deliver mobile content. Mobile apps, however, are platform specific (e.g. iOS and Android) and require significant additional expense to develop and maintain.
- Responsive/Adaptive Web Design: Allows a website to adapt its layout to the width of the viewing device, be it on desktops, tablets, and smartphones. RWD is Google’s recommended approach to making a mobile-friendly website.
Responsive Design: The Preferred Mobile-Friendly Technology
The term Responsive Web Design was first used in 2010 by Ethan Marcotte in an article for A List Apart. By 2012, Mashable named 2013 the Year of Responsive Design based on the anticipated continued increase in mobile usage and corresponding decrease in desktop usage. Since 2012, DesignHammer has recommended Responsive Web Design for all new websites.
Generally speaking if your site correctly utilizes Responsive Design priciples, your site should pass Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. How can you be sure that your responsive website is Mobile-Friendly?
Is my site Mobile-Friendly?
What do I do if my site fails?
If your website is not yet Mobile-Friendly, and are unsure on the ROI on moving to responsive design, you can attempt to estimate if your site will lose traffic due to the upcoming Mobilegeddon. If you can't afford to lose Google mobile search traffic, you should contact your website developer (or DesignHammer) to discuss how your website could be updated to become Mobile-Friendly.