When was the last time you reviewed your website? Since it was launched, time, technology and innovation have marched on, but is your site keeping up with the pace or falling behind? If it’s the latter, what impact might that be having on your business? In this article, I examine how Google drives change on the Web, particularly with regard to mobile and look at the Google Mobile Friendly Test tool which helps to assess whether (or not) your website is keeping pace with the ever-increasing trend of accessing the Web via mobile devices.
How Google Drives Change on the Web
Google Is the Dominant Search Engine
The Google Search Engine is the most popular way of finding information on the Internet. The word ‘google’ is now a verb and appears in the dictionary. That’s how popular it is.
Yes, there are other search engines – Bing, Yahoo, to name just two – but they’re almost insignificant compared to Google’s overall share of the search market.
Google Has a Core Mission
Google’s core mission is very simple:
organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful
(source: Google Company page.)
Or, put another way, the focus of the entire company is to make it easy for you to find just what you’re looking for.
So, when you use Google to search for information, it does its very best to respond with the most relevant results.
Google Has a Core Strategy
Over the years, Google’s algorithm (the mechanism which determines the order of search results you see) has evolved.
As it strives to fulfil its mission, there have been continual and relentless updates to Google’s search algorithm over the years, some minor, some major.
Google’s Influence Goes Beyond Search Results
The previously mentioned updates were notable because the changes they brought about were designed to tackle the issue of poor quality web pages/sites themselves.
Leveraging the vast store of information that the Google index stores about each and every web page on the Internet (the content on the page, the number and ‘quality’ of links to the page, etc.) the algorithm is now actively ’down-grading’ poor quality websites and websites which attempt to ‘game the system’ through ‘link-farming’ and other methods which violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
In this way, Google is increasing the integrity and quality of the search results it returns by making sure that the sites which appear in those results are not spammy or comprised of low quality content.
Google Updates Impact Web Businesses
As a direct result of updates like Panda and Penguin, some site owners – in particular those who may have paid (unwittingly or otherwise) hundreds or even thousands of pounds to seemingly legitimate SEO companies to bolster the performance of their site in search results – will have seen their sites suddenly ranking much, much lower or even dropping out of the index altogether.
For those running eCommerce sites or those dependent on advertising revenue, this impact goes straight to the bottom-line:
lower page rank = fewer visitors = less sales
When Google Speaks, We’d Better All Listen
Such is the power of Google. No wonder then, that when it introduces a major update to its algorithm, website owners and SEO companies who may have been using shady means to enhance search performance start to get the jitters.
There’s no doubt that change occurs when such updates are released. In essence, spammy sites are cleared out of the way, leaving plenty of extra room for genuine sites with quality content to move higher up the rankings and those site owners who may have previously been tempted to ‘game the system’ will think twice.
Win, Win, Win.
The outcome of such updates is good for site owners who play by the rules, good for those searching for quality information and, of course, good for Google. Win, win, win.
So what was different then about Google’s most recent algorithm update which the BBC News website dubbed ‘mobilegeddon’?
Google Wants a ‘Mobile-Friendly’ Internet
The difference was that Google actually issued a warning that a change was coming:
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.
The Rise and Rise of Mobile
For some time now, Google has been well aware that the use of mobile devices for accessing Web content would continue to grow, whilst the use of more traditional desktop computer browsers for accessing web content would continue to fall in comparison. There has been and will continue to be, a shift to mobile.
A study by the International Data Corporation showed that, by 2017, 87% of internet devices will be made up of mobile devices such as smartphones, iPads, tablets.
Back in 2014, to continue to serve its users and their ever-changing needs and behaviours, Google added a label identifying mobile-friendly sites in search results pages. This label indicated that the site in question had taken the steps necessary to present content on a small-screen.
Here’s an example:
The mobile user now had a clear choice when viewing Google search results on a mobile device: choose the site that’s mobile-friendly and have a ‘good user experience’, or the one that’s not and probably have a less than favourable one.
So in 2014, just by adding a label as a ’signal’, Google engineered a change in behaviour. Sites that were mobile-friendly started to get more visits than those which were not.
Now, with this latest mobile algorithm update, Google is going to actually rank mobile-friendly sites higher and start to penalise those sites which are not.
So to apply the formula used above to mobile search results:
not mobile-friendly = fewer visitors = less sales
mobile-friendly = more visitors = more sales
What Does Google Mean by ‘Mobile-Friendly’?
A site is deemed mobile-friendly if it meets the following criteria:
- it’s built in a way that is compatible with mobile (e.g. no use of Flash)
- it has large, readable text that does not require zooming
- the content automatically resizes to fit the screen (no need to scroll horizontally)
- it has large links with plenty of space between them so they are easily tapped
What Should Website Owners Do?
As a site owner, you should start by recognising that the shift to mobile devices will continue unabated and, soon enough, smartphones and tablets will become the dominant platform for consuming web content.
Having a site which is NOT mobile-friendly is therefore not a good long-term or even short-term option, so you’ll need to address it.
Find Out How Much Mobile Traffic You Get
One of the first things you can do is check your Google Analytics data and find out the proportion of monthly visits by platform (desktop, mobile, tablet).
You might be surprised at what you find.
Don’t be misled if the proportion is low. Remember that, as described above, Google already labels mobile-friendly websites and ranks them higher in search results. This means that you stand to gain more mobile visits if your website is mobile-friendly.
Check Your Site (And Your Competitors’) With Google’S Mobile Friendly Test
Google has provided an easy-to-use online tool to test websites for mobile-friendliness: The Mobile Friendly Test.
If you rely on a certain list of search phrases to generate traffic to your website, you might want to take another look at the search results for those phrases. Have competitor websites moved ahead of yours in the rankings? Are their sites mobile-friendly?
If you own a business website then, to some degree, you rely on Google to send visitors to your site.
If your site is not built with responsive design, it’s not serving the needs of mobile device users; therefore from now on, Google will send you fewer and fewer visitors.
The result? Those people looking for a product or service which you provide will go elsewhere. And that’s not good for business.