If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the SEO industry over the last few years (or even if you haven’t) you’ll likely be well aware that mobile users make up an ever-increasing proportion of global search traffic, with little sign that the growth will slow any time soon. It should come as no surprise then that Google is making major efforts to improve the search experience for users. In part that means changes to the user interface and improvements to autocomplete, but as of last week it also means prioritising sites with mobile-friendly designs in the search results.
Google first announced plans for the shakeup to search results at the end of February on the Webmaster Tools blog, giving site owners a couple of months’ warning to help them prepare. Let’s take a look at exactly what the company said:
“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. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.
To get help with making a mobile-friendly site, check out our guide to mobile-friendly sites. If you’re a webmaster, you can get ready for this change by using the following tools to see how Googlebot views your pages:
- If you want to test a few pages, you can use the Mobile-Friendly Test.
- If you have a site, you can use your Webmaster Tools account to get a full list of mobile usability issues across your site using the Mobile Usability Report.”
The announcement is typically light on hard figures, so it’s difficult to predict just how major a change this was. There have already been some signs that this could be a major change to search rankings however. We’ve already reported that Google’s Zineb Ait Bahajji from the Webmaster Trends team claims the update will have a bigger ranking impact than either Panda or Penguin – two of the biggest algorithm updates in years – a claim which should make any webmaster sit up and take notice.
Research from Caphyon AKA Advanced Web Ranking has also seen shifts to ranking results within the first week since the algorithm change took place, with the most-affected sites being those outside of the top-20, which were less likely to be mobile-friendly already.
Do I Need to Do Anything?
The good news is that not every webmaster needs to worry about the changes. For one thing, if your site is already mobile-friendly (more on what that means below) then you’re set – with a bit of luck, you might even have sees your rankings go up since April 21.
Even if your site isn’t mobile-friendly though, you shouldn’t necessarily rush to hire a new web developer. Some companies – especially in the B2B sector – see limited mobile traffic, and potentially none that leads to conversions. If it’s clear from your analytics that you’re getting little to no revenue from mobile search users, then there may be little benefit to a costly mobile-friendly site redesign for you. There’s no point fighting to hang onto mobile search traffic if it plays no part in your revenue stream.
If, like most companies, you’re seeing a growing number of mobile users on your site however, you need to read on to find out how to take advantage of the update.
What is a Mobile-Friendly Site?
While there’s plenty of room for debate on what makes for perfect mobile-friendly design, for our purposes there’s only one really important question: What does Google think is perfect mobile-friendly design?
In a guide to building a site for mobile devices, Google lists three main priorities: make common tasks for users quick and easy; make user interface consistent and user-friendly; make the site design consistent across devices, i.e. responsive web design. The first two aspects are very closely linked, and come down to making using the site as great an experience as possible for mobile users. That means identifying the most common tasks for users on your site (e.g. accessing content, making a purchase or getting in touch) and making it possible to complete that task in as few steps as possible, with a clear, simple interface along the way.
Google’s third recommendation, responsive design, has long been echoed by most mobile web designers and developers. Responsive design involves creating one design template for your site that is automatically adjusted to the screen size and capabilities of the user’s device: scaling things down for a phone screen, or expanding them again for a desktop.
If you’re looking to redesign your website with mobile-friendliness in mind, take Google’s recommendations as your starting point, as they play a major part in the updated mobile search algorithm. These are the metrics Google will use to determine if your site is mobile-friendly or not, with a corresponding effect on your search rankings for mobile users.
How Much Will This Cost?
Unsurprisingly, the quick answer is: it depends. If your company has money to burn and complex requirements, you can hire a web developer and designer and set about building a new site from scratch with responsive design elements to make sure you stay abreast of Google’s requirements.
For small companies with more limited budgets and development resources, there are still plenty of options however. Depending on the complexity of your site, there are plenty of free responsive themes and templates, especially for WordPress, so that you can make a quick and cheap move to a simple mobile-friendly site. If your site’s requirements are more complex than an off-the-shelf template can cover, a web developer may be able to adapt your existing site to make it responsive, without the need to start again from scratch, which is a great way to keep costs down and put changes into effect more quickly.
What Do I Do Next?
First, assess whether or not your site is already mobile-friendly. If it is, then great – you’re done. If not, the next step is to find out how important mobile traffic is to your business, to assess whether retaining mobile users is worth an investment in a mobile-friendly site or not.
If you can’t afford to see your mobile traffic take a hit, then you need to decide between updating your current site or creating a new one from scratch, and figure out just how much you can afford to spend on the project. Whether you’re working on your site in-house or bringing in a web developer, either way remember to put Google’s own guidelines on mobile design front and centre to give yourself the best chance of a rankings boost in the mobile search results.
If your industry is likely to see continued growth in mobile search, then mobile-friendly design might be necessary to avoid falling behind your competitors. Similarly, if you’ve seen your mobile search traffic drop since April 21, or are just looking for a mobile traffic boost, then get in touch with us now to find out how a mobile SEO audit of your site could help.