For several years, authoritative webmasters and website developers have been expounding the importance for businesses and organizations of all types to have an online presence that plays well with mobile devices.
However, Google recently decided to make it official by announcing an upcoming algorithm update favoring websites that are mobile friendly or have a responsive design that reads the device and operating system of the visitor.
A Major Update from Google
Last February, Google announced that a major update to the algorithm it uses to rank websites during user searches would be implemented on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. Expert developers and Web analysts have already stated that the change will be even more significant and affect far more searches than the two most extensive algorithm updates of the past: Panda and Penguin. In fact, this was recognized and stated by Zineb Ait Bahajji, one of the top members of Google’s Webmaster Trends team.
“We will be expanding our use of mobile friendliness as a ranking signal,” stated the official announcement from Google. “This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high-quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”
The Shift to Mobile Internet
The reason Google decided to implement the algorithm update is that last year, in 2014, the volume of data transferred through the Internet to mobile devices exceeded the data transferred to PCs and laptops for the first time in history. This change is very significant to businesses, and it will significantly affect those that have been resistant to changes in technology. It took quite some time for many companies to embrace the Internet, and a large number of others are now lagging when it comes to smartphones and tablets.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Online Publishers Association, consumers are using their mobile devices to access the Internet for the following reasons:
- Seek content and information – 99.5 percent
- General Internet use– 63.1 percent
- Send and receive email – 62.1 percent
- Listen to music – 49.2 percent
- Play games – 46 percent
- Download and use mobile apps – 41.7 percent
- Purchase goods or services – 15 percent
- Read e-books – 15 percent
Not so long ago, it was believed that the trend toward mobile devices only represented consumers, but it has recently been shown that phones and tablets are the devices of choice for corporate executives, which means that mobile searches are very important for business-to-business transactions. The 2014 IDG Global Mobile Survey regarding executives shows the following:
- Conducts business on smartphones – 92 percent
- Uses tablets to research or make business-related purchases – 86 percent
- Uses smartphones to research or make purchases for businesses – 77 percent
Also, the survey found that these business-to-business transactions are just as likely to occur in the evening or at night as they are during the day.
Eighty Percent of Companies Unprepared
With a 67 percent share of the search engine market, Google algorithm updates must be taken seriously. The algorithm determines where a website will rank when users input search queries. After the new algorithm is implemented, responsive websites that display and navigate well on phones and tablets will receive a boost in their rankings. This means that if your website is difficult to view on mobile devices, it may appear several listings down the page or even several pages back in search results.
Many companies that rely on Web searches to acquire customers or complete transactions could lose more than 50 percent of their business. It is also estimated that if a company requires the Internet for more than half its business, it could go under completely within the next year without a website
Google has also released surveys that highlight how the algorithm update will affect companies. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of smartphone owners use their devices to conduct Internet searches. In addition, 61 percent of mobile users who become frustrated trying to read or find information will immediately search for another site. On the reverse side of that coin, mobile users who have positive experiences with an e-commerce website are 67 percent more likely to make a purchase.
Given the above statistics, it is shocking that Google estimates 81.3 percent to 88.2 percent of all businesses with a Web presence are unprepared for the latest algorithm update.
How to Discover if You Are Ready
While the specific changes and the algorithm itself are kept top secret, Google has been doing an excellent job of informing the public about the update. The company has provided a free tool that will tell you what you have to do to prepare your website. All you have to do is enter the URL of a Web page and click on the Analyze button. If Google believes the page can be read sufficiently on mobile devices, then it will state, “Awesome! This page is mobile friendly.” In addition to the message, you will be shown how Google sees your website on a mobile device.
If Google finds problems with your website, you will receive the message, “Not mobile friendly,” and you will be given some of the reasons why it didn’t pass the test and tips on how it can be optimized to meet the standards of the algorithm update.
Optimizing Your Website for Mobile Devices
If you want your website to remain viable during Google searches and receive better page rankings, it is imperative that you optimize it as soon as possible. Even webmasters who had always designed their own sites are now scrambling to reconfigure them and are opting to pay professionals to get it done quickly and efficiently.
When it comes to giving your website a mobile-friendly makeover, Google will recognize three viable options. If you do not implement one of these, then your search returns are likely to decline significantly.
1. Responsive Web Design (RWD)
According to Google, this is the recommended option for upgrading your website. This is also the most efficient of the three because it does not require you to have two totally different versions of the same site. Instead, you only have one Web address. Your website reads the type of device being used to access it and displays a version that is optimized for it. RWD is the first choice for Google, and Web designers in general, for several reasons:
- RWD offers a seamless transition for most visitors.
- You keep the same HTML for all versions rather than having to create a new website.
- It is more efficiently indexed by Google bots because they don’t have to check two different sets of code or two different websites.
- It requires less time to maintain than the other options.
- Your website loads faster with RWD.
2. Dynamic Serving
This option is similar to RWD in that it allows you to keep the same URL, but it requires you to use two completely different sets of code. As your website is accessed, the server discovers which type of device is being used and implements the set of code that works best. This option, however, does not always work how it is supposed to, which may result in errors, but once you get it working properly, it will allow you to pass Google’s algorithm test.
3. Mobile Websites
In the early days of smartphones, creating a new website optimized for mobile devices was the only option available, and it still fits the requirements of Google’s upcoming algorithm changes. Some improvements have been made to mobile websites in recent years. You can set your primary landing page to detect if it is being accessed by a mobile device, and if it is, the viewer will automatically be redirected to the mobile version. The bad part about this option is that you have to update both sites whenever your content changes. It can also be frustrating for users who accidentally access the mobile website from desktop or laptop computers.
The Need for Speed
Although the update to Google’s search algorithm may require you to make some changes to the design of your website or create a new website altogether, it should not be viewed as a bad thing. Experts agree that this is a much-needed update, but it does carry a few drawbacks, especially in time and money. Many website owners will find that the easiest way to comply is to move the site to a mobile-friendly platform. However, it must pass Google’s optimization test by the time the update is implemented on April 21. If it is not ready in time, it may be penalized for several days or even weeks until the Google bots have time to get back to your site to check it again.