A few weeks ago, Google announced a major change to its algorithm that will favor mobile-friendly websites in search results on mobile devices. Maybe you heard the word “mobilegeddon” buzzing around?  Google says this change will make it easier to get “relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices” when searching from a smartphone or tablet.

But what does this all really mean? And how will it actually impact your organization?

All hype aside, here’s what you need to know:

Understanding Mobile-Friendly Design

Simply put, mobile-friendly design aims to ensure that your website can be easily viewed from a mobile device.  This can be achieved through responsive design (website resizes based on the size of your screen) or a mobile specific site (a different template is used based on the device you’re using).

But why does this really matter? The verdict is unanimous; we’re no longer living in a one-screen world and that’s changed the way people use the internet.

Earlier this year, we shared just how big an impact the rise of smartphones and tablets is having on our clients’ web traffic, with around 32% of visitors coming from these devices. And industry trends mirror this statistic. In fact, last week, Google announced that more “Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.”

Are you Mobile-Friendly?

First things first: Is your site mobile friendly?
More importantly, does Google think your site is mobile friendly?

In anticipation of the update, Google provided us with a handy tool that answers just that. Enter your website’s URL and wait for the moment of truth.

If you’re mobile friendly, congrats! Google will factor this into your rank, potentially improving where your site lands in Google search results on mobile devices.

If you’re not mobile friendly, hold back the tears. Google will tell you what’s wrong with your site and offers tips and suggestions for improving it. But before you dive in and make any major changes to your website, it’s important to understand the impact this has on your website traffic and what you can do about it.

Data is your Friend

While, overall, mobile traffic is certainly increasing, every case is unique. Hop on Google Analytics and look at the percentage of visitors who actually come to your site from mobile devices. More importantly, look at the percentage of mobile visitors accessing your site from Google.

Google Analytics will help you determine if a change in your ranking could result in a major loss in traffic for your organization or if it will go unnoticed. For example, one of our clients sees more than 25% of their traffic come from mobile search. For another client, mobile search results in less than 2% of their visitors. What you find can mean the difference between a potential loss of 20 visitors…or 2,000.

Note: Make sure you benchmark your traffic before and after the switch to see the real results. Keep in mind that Google’s rollout of this algorithm has not been instantaneous so it may be another week or two until you have clean data.

Know your Options

So you failed. And you’re expecting a change in your traffic. What can you do?

Mobile Redesign. The most obvious solution to Google’s algorithm change is a mobile redesign of your site. While there are several viable approaches,  we always advocate for a responsive design…and so does Google. While a mobile specific site will still meet Google’s requirements, they are not preferred.

Mobile sites can be easier to implement, but more difficult to manage (requiring maintenance of both desktop and mobile versions). A responsive site simply creates a more seamless experience for the user.  Content can be easily shared across devices, page load times are often faster, and there’s a single URL for all versions, which can all help improve your SEO.  Talk to a web developer and see what’s right for you.

Mobile Optimization. It’s not all about the platform. While having that mobile-friendly design is key, ensuring your content is optimized for mobile can be just as important.

From the technical side, make sure the content you’re adding to the site is playable on all devices. Don’t block CSS, JavaScript and image files, and focus on load speed. For example, content created in Flash won’t load on Apple’s mobile devices. If your visitors can’t use your site on mobile, having a mobile-friendly template is pointless.

Approach your content from a mobile perspective. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Remember the screen size people will be viewing your site on and how much content will actually be visible at a given time.
  • Use short headlines with easily readable text.
  • Place clear calls to action and important content up top. Assume your visitors won’t scroll all the way to the bottom.
  • Can you touch it? Leave enough space between links where it’s actually usable on a touchscreen device.

Lessons Learned

This algorithm change was inevitable and the right direction for Google, the industry, and most importantly, the end-user.  Take advantage of this change and join the ranks of a mobile-friendly world today.  Your organization and your visitors will thank you.

About the Author
Josh Einbinder
Josh Einbinder is a Senior Strategist at Brick Factory. He leads our cross-functional team of developers, designers, and content creators through the web design and development process. Josh doesn’t like spicy food, but he sure can write a spicy blog post.