Google is about to penalize your site. Here’s why.

Google is not the most transparent company in the world when it comes to their most valuable product: search. So, when they do provide some transparency, it’s probably a good idea to listen. On Thursday, February, 26, 2015, Google was very transparent with one particular aspect of their search methodolgy. Starting April 21, mobile-friendliness would be used as a ranking signal for mobile searches.

From 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.

Mobile Friendly?

What exactly does Google mean by mobile-friendly? In a nutshell, your website should work well on a broad range of devices - from a smartphone to a desktop to a TV. By the way, have you ever looked at your site on a browser on the TV like on the Wii? You might be surprised or shocked. As more and more people transition to mobile devices as their primary means of finding information (doing searches), your site needs to be accessible and easily navigable on these devices. Or, as Google puts it - optimized - for these devices.

Google’s goal is to provide the best results to their users (searchers) and one way of ensuring this is by sending them to the sites where the browsing experience is going to be the most comfortable for the device that they are on. Thus, if they are on a mobile device, Google will give a site that is mobile-friendly preference over a site that is not, all other factors being equal.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design, a phrase coined by Ethan Marcotte back in 2010, is a technique that uses fluid grids, flexible images and media queries to adapt the layout of a website based on the width of the viewport (or screen for simplicity) that the site is being viewed with. This technique has advantages over a separate mobile site, usually indicated by a m subdomain (m.website.com), in that it allows you to publish your content once and let the device determine the layout.

Over the last year, we (Firebrand Media) have started developing responsive designs for all of our new projects. You can view samples here, here and here. Obviously, you’ll need to view them on a mobile device to see the responsive design. The key to responsive design is that even with a simple responsive design, the user experience is greatly improved.

In the image below, you can see our device lab where we test the layouts of responsive designs that we create for clients. It’s really pretty cool to see it in action.

Responsive Design Device Lab

Unfortunately, our busy schedule has kept us from updating the design on our two most important projects (firebrand-media.com (Firebrand-Media.com responsive design launched 10/12/15 - High Five!) and inthepanhandle.com). Maybe the April 21 deadline will be a motivator.

What About Desktop?

Nice catch. Google is very specific that this will apply to mobile search results. Results for those searching from a desktop device will likely be unchanged.

What does this mean for my website?

For me, the operative word from Google’s statement is significant. This changeā€¦ will have a significant impact in our search results. This means that you have an opportunity. An opportunity to rise above your competitors in what has become a very competitive and important aspect of your online marketing, search engine optimization (SEO).

It also means that your competitors have that same opportunity to eclipse their competitors (you).

What can I do?

Is your current site mobile-friendly? Google has created a Mobile-Friendly Test which you can use to test whether or not your site is ready for April 21. I would suggest you do that now. I’ll wait.

If your site is mobile-friendly, you’ll get a “good job” and you can go back to doing what you normally do. If it’s not, you’ll receive a list of reasons as to why it is not mobile friendly. If it’s not mobile-friendly, your next step should be to contact a web developer that can help you update your site. Luckily, we know someone who can help update your site with a mobile-friendly, responsive design.

Have a question? Need some advice? We’d love to hear from you!

Further Reading

Here are some great resources for a bit more info about this.

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About The Author

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  • G. Brad Hopkins
  • About Me: I bought my first computer - an Apple Performa 6320 - when I was in college and have been building websites ever since. These days I spend most of my time writing code and helping to bring interesting projects to life.
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