By Kayla Murphy, PR & Integrated Media Manager
Google has announced that on April 21, they will be again updating their search algorithm (the attributes and calculations that go into determining search placement for a website) to be more mobile focused. They have been making changes going in this direction in both the Panda and Penguin updates, and in more recent months have been positioning even more for mobile-friendliness due to the increasingly widespread use of mobile devices – handheld computers such as tablets and smartphones.
In November of 2014, Google launched a “mobile-friendly” label next to each site listing, to let users know whether or not the site was indeed created with the user’s current device in mind. Then, in December, mobile usage surpassed desktop usage in many industries and locations.
On Feb. 26, Google posted to the official Google Webmaster blog:
“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.”
What does this mean?
Well, if your website is not mobile-friendly, it will hurt your position in mobile search results. Google will favor the mobile-friendly websites over those that are non-mobile-friendly. Having a mobile-friendly site means that the site is scripted so people on mobile devices can easily navigate and find what they need, accounting for touch and gestures, screen size, and loading time.
What effect will this have on my site?
We have found that the amount of mobile users visiting our senior living client websites varies, but even the sites that are not mobile-optimized have at least a third of their traffic coming from mobile devices. The majority of that traffic is coming from search results. So, if your site is not mobile-friendly after April 21, your site will appear lower in search results, which will have a serious impact on total site traffic.
How do I know if my site is compliant?
If your site is set up with Google Webmaster Tools, you may have received warning messages in recent months to fix any mobile usability issues that exist. You can also use Google’s Mobile Usability tool to see detailed recommendations to get your site up to par. If you don’t have Webmaster Tools set up, or if you don’t have access to your site’s Webmaster Tools account (maybe it’s managed by your digital team), you can check to see the current status of your site’s mobile usability with a free tool that Google has provided – the Mobile-Friendly Test.
What can I do to make my site mobile-friendly?
There are basically two main ways to achieve a mobile-friendly site. One is to build a dedicated mobile site. This will give users a site that is optimized for mobile only. It can be very expensive, since many times it is like building an entirely new website, and if you have information that updates regularly, you may have to update two separate websites. Also, it doesn’t account for multiple devices. However, some businesses gain improved mobile performance from these sites as the business has more control over what is being served to mobile users.
The most popular, and probably most affordable, way to achieve a mobile-friendly site is to make your website responsive or adaptive. This means that the site will “respond” or “adapt” to the screen size of the device it is being viewed on. The great thing about this is that you can essentially cater to every device size – whether it is one of the numerous and unpredictable screen sizes of a mobile phone, a tablet, or a laptop or desktop machine.
The first step you should take is to reach out to your digital team and have an open discussion about which route will work best for your company.
Note: If your site is already built to be mobile-friendly but Google is telling you that it isn’t, simply use Google Webmaster Tools (with the aid of your digital team) to work through the points they are suggesting. Most likely you’ll just need to fix a few quick items to get your site compliant.