Have you noticed? As you’ve used your smartphone or tablet, you’ve probably discovered that many of the websites you visit reformat from their desktop version to fit smaller screen sizes. This “right-sizing” of websites is more than just a trend. It’s here to stay, thanks in large part to Google’s evolving methods for ranking websites for search results.
On April 21, 2015, Google will release a major update to its website indexing algorithm that will negatively impact organizations whose websites are not optimized for viewing on smartphones. Sites that are not mobile-friendly can expect significant declines in mobile traffic.
Maybe converting your website into a mobile-friendly layout has been on your radar for a while. Maybe it’s technology you don’t fully understand. Or maybe you just haven’t had the time to research what mobile-friendly websites are all about. If this sounds like you, you’ll want to pay careful attention to the following information.
The Google Algorithm update and who will be impacted
2014 was the first year we saw mobile online traffic exceed desktop traffic for time spent on digital media in the U.S. This trend hasn’t been overlooked by the major search engines. In fact, for the first time ever, Google pre-announced an algorithm change that is scheduled for April 21, 2015. It will be one of the biggest updates in their history.
Google has been hinting at the importance of mobile for some time now, including the release of their Mobile-Friendly Test. To determine if your site is in fact mobile-friendly, simply enter your website address into the field on this test page. If your page submissions pass the test, then you should have nothing to worry about.
If your site fails, you’ve got some work to do and need to begin putting a plan together now. The more traffic your website sees from smartphones, the bigger the impact you will see from this update. To determine the total mobile traffic coming to your website, simply check your Google Analytics reporting. Mobile traffic can be viewed from the Google Analytics reporting dashboard under the Audience section. Once you’ve clicked on the Audience section, click on Mobile, then Devices. Adjust your reporting dates to the past 12 months to get an idea on your average monthly mobile traffic volume.
Why is Google doing this?
With the use of mobile devices outpacing desktop computers, Google’s desire is to serve up the best possible experience to their customers—customers meaning anyone searching online via Google. In order to do that, Google users must find it easier to get relevant and high quality search results that are optimized for their specific devices. As Google looks to maintain search dominance, customer-focused changes that improve user experience will remain at the core of their long-term strategy.
Why updating to responsive is your best mobile-friendly strategy
If your website is not mobile-friendly, don’t panic. Just start formulating a plan to update your site to “responsive” design. Responsive design simply means that your website will detect the screen size and device used by the person accessing your site and adapt accordingly. Each visitor on your website gets a tailored experience that quickly and easily gives them access to relevant content they’re searching for on their device of choice.
Why is this the best strategy? For starters, Google actually prefers responsive design over a mobile version of your website; they actually refer to responsive web design as a best practice. And because Google owns over 87% of today’s mobile search market, aligning your site with Google’s methodology should be top priority.
If you’re still not convinced, we’ve compiled a list of some major strategic advantages to responsive website design:
- Excellent user experience: In the end, it’s all about delighting your customers. Happy visitors are more likely to purchase, revisit, and refer other prospects to your website.
- Increased reach online: With the ability to serve up content on any device, your potential audience reach grows exponentially. Your site will appeal to a larger percentage of visitors exploring what you offer.
- Flexibility: Regardless of potential new screen sizes that may surface in the future, your complete website can easily be delivered to your audience without further updating.
- Cost savings: Both from a cost and resource perspective, having one website to build, update and maintain will save you substantial time and money. Two versions of your site usually requires significant maintenance and separate SEO (search engine optimization) efforts.
- Better SEO: SEO is vital and expected now by Google. Since Google prefers responsive web design and will reward sites that provide a better mobile experience with higher rankings, having a responsive site means more traffic and a big competitive advantage. Showing up higher in search results can quickly equate to more leads and sales.
What’s involved in making the shift to responsive?
Your next question is likely, “What’s involved in migrating to a responsive, mobile-friendly website?” If you’re already on a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, the shift could be relatively simple and inexpensive. To fully understand all that’s involved, you’ll want to speak with an online marketing agency that specializes in developing responsive websites. Responsive design considerations need to be thought through with a provider that has a solid understanding of marketing, your value proposition, and messaging that is tailored for your audience. A responsive design without proper consideration of your audience could be a waste of money that does more harm than good.
If you would like assistance, our team here at North Star Marketing would be happy to walk you through what’s involved in moving to responsive and provide options tailored to your specific budget.
What you can expect if you don’t take action now
If your site is not currently mobile-friendly, failing to act now will result in your site being penalized once the Google update takes place on April 21st. How bad that penalty hurts your company will depend on what percentage of your online traffic is coming from mobile devices. For example, if your site typically generates 1,000 mobile visits per month and on average 3% of those visits turn into leads, you’re losing 30 leads per month. If 20% of your online leads generally become new customers, that translates into 6 lost sales per month. Depending on your average sale and the lifetime value of your average customer, that could be thousands of dollars in lost revenue every month. Analyzing the impact in terms of lost revenue often makes the decision a no-brainer.
If you do nothing to deal with this update, once your site does end up being penalized, keep in mind this could equate to longer-term pagerank and traffic issues. Migrating over to a new, mobile-friendly site doesn’t happen overnight and won’t create an immediate cure for your traffic woes. Plan on several weeks to several months to bounce back from these search engine penalties.
While the mobile-friendly update will only impact mobile traffic initially, this could change in the future. The value of mobile-friendliness may likely become a more prevalent factor in Google’s search algorithm, impacting site rankings as a whole (including desktop). Preparing now will put you in a stronger strategic position to benefit from this kind of change in the future.
Where do you go from here?
For starters, taking the following steps can help you to prepare now and be ready for what lies ahead:
- Use Google’s mobile-friendly test to determine if your website will be penalized.
- Check your Google Analytics reporting for mobile traffic and determine the potential impact any traffic loss may have on your sales.
- If your site is not mobile-friendly and you have traffic to lose, contact an online marketing agency that specializes in responsive websites.
- Ask how quickly you can make the shift to responsive. Check with them about any patches you could put in place during the development process.
If you’re a small to mid-size business concerned about the impact of Google’s new mobile-friendly update on your bottom line, take action now! Given the current trend in mobile usage, search traffic from mobile devices will only continue to rise.
Ready to start building your mobile-friendly website strategy? Click here to contact North Star Marketing today.