It’s not every day that Google uses the word “significant” to describe a change to its algorithm and then gives it an actual rollout date. On the 26th of February, the nice-faced search leviathan posted this, bluntly stating that as of "April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal”.
Attentive webmasters would know that Google has been apt to mention mobile-friendly search factors before, as evidenced in 2013, and again in June and November of last year, however nothing so decisive and final as this: web pages that do adhere to its requirements after the set date will receive a ranking boost.
This is Google's putsch to cleanse the web of mobile-unfriendliness. They dream of a web browsing experience completely, unequivocally user-friendly, and they want that dream to bear fruit after April 21.
As far as Google is concerned, there are no degrees of mobile-responsiveness. A website either is or isn’t mobile-friendly.
It's a bold vision that it's actively trying to shape, with the bottom line that this change will affect your business.
Users are increasingly browsing on their smartphones rather than desktop, and there’s a growing tendency to favour a smartphone-based shopping experience. As such, Google sees no point in listing websites that are difficult to look at in its mobile search results.
A joint survey between Google and Nielsen found that a majority percentage of respondents used their smartphones to search for local information at home or at work despite a desktop alternative, and crucially, those searches triggered a followup action that included a phone call or a web store purchase.
Google wants to match anticipated user trends, so that mobile-browsing consumers will exclusively see mobile-responsive content. All web content not deemed mobile-friendly will be filtered out of the mobile-browsing experience.
Essentially, Google is looking for mobile-friendly web pages, (as are your customers).
Google’s April 21 algorithm change will boost rankings at an individual page level, with each web page being assessed for mobile-friendliness.
This will be implemented globally, in real time. It will index web pages that:
- Use text that can be read without zooming.
- Resize content to the screen without the need to scroll horizontally.
- Space their links far enough apart to be correctly tapped on.
- Load swiftly.
What Google wants is legible, quick-to-load content.
Check the mobile-friendliness of your website here.
As you can see, it’s either a yes or a no. There’s no such thing as a website being somewhat mobile-friendly.
The most effective and versatile means of ensuring your site is mobile-friendly is to implement responsive design. Responsive website design resizes your website content to the dimensions of the screen it is being viewed on, be it a large smartphone like an iPhone 6+ or small Android tablet; even, for the sake of argument, an old Blackberry. Such design, when correctly implemented, perfectly satisfies Goolge’s pre-requisites, while keeping the viewing experience at a premium for all screen sizes, making the best use of any screen size it is dealing with.
This coffee retailer’s experience following a switch to a responsive web design is worth the read, with particular reference to how their redesign resulted in a 17% spike in online traffic and order volume.
Trending issues like Google’s deadline and responsive web design aren't just of interest to Small-to-Medium Enterprises (SMEs). They affect corporate organisations as well.
BBC News is now hip to the responsive tip, following insights that 65% of its readers are visiting them via smart phone and tablet devices. New York Times Magazine has followed suit for similar reasons.
Even the United Nations sees the utility of such a transition.
Most interesting is MTV’s experience after it switched to a responsive website design. It makes for a fascinating case study, in terms of social media referrals, website traffic, and qualitative engagement.
What happens when a potential lead can’t engage your website on a mobile device?
Basically, they leave. They promptly depart your website with a dim view of your brand, unlikely to ever return.
When a mobile user lands on your homepage, that person will decide in 0.05 seconds whether or not they want to engage with you. In a recent Google Hangouts chat with John Mueller, it was stated that 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble with, and what's more, 40% would visit a competitor’s mobile-friendly site instead.
Then there is the issue of shopping cart abandonment. Shopify found that 33% of e-commerce salesare now taking place on mobile devices. This statistic is up from 23% in January 2014, and 12% the year prior.
If your customers attempt to engage your e-commerce component via a mobile device and get frustrated because of unresponsive design, you risk losing them. Additionally, you may miss out on leads who try in vain to search for your business on a mobile device.
After April 21, mobile-unresponsive websites can expect an initial drop in web traffic of between 20 and 30 percent. Such web traffic will continue to drop as rates of smartphone-only browsing increase.
Bottom line: make sure that your website satisfies Google’s requirements for mobile-friendliness. If it doesn’t, then updating your website to a Responsive Design is the best option. If your site runs on a platform such as Squarespace, Wordpress or Joomla, then the process of upgrading to a responsive design is relatively painless and inexpensive.
Mobile device-driven engagement is what customers and leads--AND Google--are expecting of your business. Don't get left behind.
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