By Sean Armstrong –
Are you ready for April 21st?
How well does your website work on tablet computers and smartphones? Is your website mobile-friendly? And just what does “mobile-friendly” mean?
For the past year or so, Google has been using mobile-responsiveness – that is, how well a website displays on mobile devices – as a factor in determining how well a site ranks in its search results.
Websites that are specifically designed to display well on tablet computers and smartphones have tended to rank higher in Google’s search results than those that aren’t… And this has been the case regardless of whether a search is conducted on a desktop computer, laptop, or on a mobile tablet or smartphone.
But, until now, the importance of a site’s “mobile-friendliness” in relation to its rankings in Google’s search results has been both limited and rather ambiguous.
For example, Google didn’t make clear what was necessary for a website to be considered “mobile-friendly” or how not being “mobile-friendly” specifically affected a site’s search rankings.
For many therapists and other business owners, this ambiguity has been reason enough to postpone optimizing their websites for mobile devices.
Well, everything’s changing come April 21st!
According to a recent Google blog post, Google is preparing for a major change to its search algorithm that will, quite literally, revolutionize how they determine whether or not a given website is mobile-friendly and how that determination affects Google’s search listings as of April 21st, 2015.
In what I consider to be a typically over-dramatic fashion, the search engine industry has dubbed April 21st Google’s “Mobilegeddon.”
While the fear such a moniker imparts definitely needs to be put in perspective, Google’s announcement is not to be taken lightly, let alone ignored…
As Google has stated:
“Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.”
Now, conspiracy theories aside, there’s a good reason for Google to be taking this action…
According to the results of a 2013 study, 50% of consumers use their mobile devices to start ANY search process. And that was a year and a half ago!
In fact, some estimates indicate that over 60% of ALL searches on Google are performed using tablets and smartphones.
It only makes sense for Google to take advantage of this trend and ensure that their mobile users enjoy the best experience possible with their search engine.
What’s more, according to ReachLocal, 3 out of 5 consumers search for local businesses on their smartphones. And at least one study has shown that 48% of mobile visitors who visit a site that is not mobile-friendly feel the company doesn’t care about their business.
What does all of this mean?
Whether you care about your site’s rankings in Google’s search results or not, there’s still no better time than the present to make sure your site is mobile-friendly!
While Google’s announcement and April 21st deadline are making waves and causing no shortage of headaches (if not outright panic) for website developers and small business owners alike, the writing’s been on the proverbial wall for the past year. I even wrote a blog post on this very topic just a few months ago: “Is Your Website Ready to Go Mobile? Why and How to Make Sure Your Website Is Mobile-Friendly.”
So, what will happen if your site isn’t mobile-friendly by April 21st?
Google is still being rather opaque about how the change will affect individual sites’ search rankings. However, it’s pretty clear that the vast majority of sites that aren’t mobile-friendly will experience major decreases in their search engine visibility… especially for searches made on mobile devices. And, remember, searches on mobile devices account for 50% or more of ALL searches.
In short, if your site isn’t mobile-friendly by Google’s deadline, it may well be removed from search results across all mobile devices, as well as take a hit in search results on desktop and laptop computers.
We’ll have to wait and see to be sure…
Unfortunately, while there are definitely times when taking a “wait-and-see” approach makes sense, in my opinion this isn’t one of them… And this is especially true if you’re at all reliant on your site’s search engine visibility for acquiring referrals and new clients.
How Can You Prepare?
If your site is already mobile-friendly, you don’t have much to worry about.
But, to be clear, when I say “mobile-friendly,” I’m referring to Google’s interpretation… not just how your friends, you, or I may think your site looks on a specific tablet or smartphone.
1) Test your site using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Page.
Simply click this link, enter your website address into the box, and click “Analyze” …
If Google returns a message in green stating, “Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly,” you’re all set. If you get a message in red stating, “Not mobile-friendly,” you’ve got some work to do between now and April 21st.
Note: Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool occasionally times out (probably because of all the use it’s getting!) and you may receive the error message “Failed to fetch the requested URL.” Just hit the “Analyze” button again, as this message doesn’t mean your site didn’t pass the test, just that the test failed to complete.
You can also review your site’s Mobile Usability Report in Google Webmaster Tools, but you’ll need to have a Google Webmaster Tools account set up to do so.
2) If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, now’s the time to make it so.
If your site doesn’t pass Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, then you need to make arrangements to re-develop your website ASAP. Fortunately, you have a couple of options…
While re-developing your website using a mobile-responsive design is the best way to go, it’s not the only choice.
A mobile-responsive website is considered “best practice” because these types of sites are specifically designed and coded to display their content optimally on ANY device being used to view the site. In other words, a responsive site’s design automatically adjusts its layout depending on the size of the screen being used to view it. Creating a truly responsive website is the only way to make sure your site is consistent on all devices.
However, if you’re wedded to your current site’s design, you may want to have your web designer create a separate mobile version of your site. While there are some drawbacks to this – including the possibility that your site may look quite different depending on the device being used to view it and the fact that having multiple sites makes it more difficult to update their content – Google doesn’t have a preference, as long as mobile users’ experience isn’t interrupted.
Additionally, if you’re running a self-hosted WordPress website, there are several WordPress “plugins” available that can help you quickly make your site mobile-friendly and fully Google-compliant. See “Is Your Website Ready to Go Mobile? Why and How to Make Sure Your Website Is Mobile-Friendly” for more information.
What if you don’t meet the April 21st deadline?
The last time I checked, 93.3% of small business websites were not mobile compatible and did not render successfully on mobile devices or smartphones. If yours is one of them, you’re far from alone.
Of course, if you don’t have a mobile-friendly website in place by April 21st, you’re more than likely to receive a lot less search engine traffic after that date.
However, Google is constantly and continuously visiting and indexing websites…
So, even if your site isn’t mobile-friendly by the 21st and you experience a decrease in traffic because of it, the chances are good that you can regain some, if not all, of your site’s lost visibility and traffic as soon as you do what’s necessary to make your site mobile-friendly and fully Google-compliant.
Lastly, while this Google update looks set to be one of the biggest I’ve ever seen, I’m sure it won’t be the last…
Google will continue to do whatever it can to make sure its mobile users are happy. And, given the vast numbers of consumers using mobile devices, so should you!
Like it or not, Google is providing the motivation to make our current and prospective clients’ online experiences as rich and rewarding as possible… The rest is up to us.
Is your site ready for Google’s April 21st deadline? Not sure? How do you feel about Google’s announcement? Let us know your questions, comments, and how we can help using the comment section below… We look forward to hearing from you!
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