Google’s #MobileMadness: How Designing For Mobile Boosts Your Search Rankings
Google has gone mad. This month, they are playing on the ‘March Madness’ of the NCAA college basketball tournament to bring awareness to #MobileMadness. Why is Google going Mad for Mobile Web? In a recent announcement, Google indicated that their next algorithm update in April would expand the use of mobile friendliness as a ranking signal.
"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."
Seems pretty benign right? Expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal… it sounds friendly and easy. Not so fast. One popular SEO blogger has dubbed this "Mobilegeddon". That doesn’t sound friendly at all. Those who study Google (Altos included) know that Google isn’t fooling around when it comes to mobile web and user experience.
Why Is Mobile Web So Important To Google?
About 60% of all searches starting online are on mobile. What’s more, the number of mobile devices has increased (this info graphic from inlatest.com says there will be 16 billion internet connected devices by 2020).
Did you start a search on your phone while at work (shhhh… we won’t tell)? Have you ever started looking up something at home, then gone out and finished doing your research on your phone? What about using your tablet while your kid is at gymnastics to research dinner recipes only to get home and print them out on your desktop? Have you ever looked for a local restaurant while driving around in a new city (as the passenger, of course)?
We could ask this and hundreds of other questions about your behavior online, but Google has already asked them and knows the answer. Google has done a lot of research on this subject, and they have published it in a very interactive form. Think With Google is a website that is dedicated to understanding behavior online. They have developed a series of tools that allow anyone and everyone to view and interact with their research.
As you might have guessed by this point in the article, mobile web is here to stay. We can probably thank/curse Steve Jobs for inventing the iPhone right about now, but that isn’t fair.
What Does This Mean For Your Business - Not All SERPS Are Created Equal
Did you know that searches done on mobile devices show different results than on desktop computers? And now if your site isn’t mobile friendly you are going to have a tougher time ranking for the same searches you do on mobile devices.
This is a snapshot from webmaster tools:
This is the same site, which is not mobile optimized as of yet. The first graphic is the number of queries the site received from desktop searches, the second is from mobile. The numbers speak for themselves, same site; much lower visibility on mobile search results pages (SERPS).
How To Do A "Health Check"
There are a host of ways to make your site appear in mobile searches, and Google gives you plenty of tools to check your work. To start, enter your domain into the following two tools.
Right away you will see what Google sees when it is trying to determine if your site is mobile friendly or not. This will give you a good place to start. If you have webmaster tools installed (see previous blog on how important that is) you may have received an email already warning you that your site isn’t mobile friendly.
Google has also put together a site dedicated to this subject. It contains resources on the different types of mobile implementations, best practices, etc.
The Best Way To "Go Mobile"
Sadly, there isn’t a best way. There is the way that works for your business. There are three primary ways to make your site mobile friendly: (1)responsive web design, (2) dynamic serving, and (3) Do a separate site on a different URL i.e: m.yoursite.com. Google says they don’t play favorites. Any one of these configurations will get the job done and remove the manual penalty of not being mobile friendly.
We have used two of these methods for our clients, separate URL’s and responsive web design. We have only used separate m. urls for very specific applications, it is not the best way to “go mobile”. We do use responsive web design for 100% of all sites that we build. Responsive isn’t cheap and it’s not easy, but cheap and easy won’t bring your business the results you’re looking for. Plant a seed today, enjoy the fruit later.
Practical Next Steps
Now that you’re armed with all of this information it’s time to make some decisions about the future of your website. Do you have it in the budget this year to implement a new responsive site? Would you be better served with a short term band-aid until you can get the full site in place? So many questions with so many possible answers.
The best thing to do is send us a note, firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a bit about your situation. We’re working on this stuff every day and we’re here to help. We’ll be able to come up with a game plan and bring your site into the new world of #MobileMadness.