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 change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide."

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. 

The user-friendliness drive is directly related to current smartphone ownership and usage insights.

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.    

Responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern. 

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.   

What next? 

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.