Google’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm: How to Survive Mobilegeddon

In late April of this year, Google announced they were finally flipping the switch on their long talked about “mobile-friendly algorithm.” Immediately, news sites started trending the term “Mobilegeddon.” Even though it sounds like another overhyped doomsday term for yet another flash-in-the-pan internet event, there is some credence to the potential negative impact this change could have on your website.

So what exactly is Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm? As they announced back in February:

“…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.”

In essence, Google is ensuring that users are getting the most user-friendly results for the device they’re on. In the case of mobile, when someone performs a search on their phone, sites that are appropriately optimized (Wired, Barney’s, CNN, etc.) will have a leg up and be weighted higher in search results. Consequently, sites that are built for desktop users exclusively (Reddit, NBC Sports, HubPages, to name a few) will take a hit on mobile searches.

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This could potentially be a major issue for your site’s traffic. Mobile internet use surpassed desktop use in 2014. Think this is just a B-to-C issue? According to the IDG Global Mobile Survey 2014, executives conducting research during and after office hours preferred using their mobile device: 92 percent of executives own a smartphone used for business, and 77 percent of executives use their smartphone to research a product or service for their business. Mobile is important now more than ever.

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So how do you tell if your site will be affected? First, you need to determine if your site is optimized. Google has provided a handy tool to check mobile optimization. Google uses some basic criteria to designate a site mobile friendly:

  • Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
  • Uses text that is readable without zooming
  • Sizes content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
  • Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped

If you pass the test and your site is optimized, mozel tov! However, if you didn’t, don’t fret—Google will re-index your site as soon as it meets their criteria. In the meantime, here’s what you can do to quickly get back in Google’s good graces.

If You’re Using a Content Management System

Many sites already use a content management system like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla. If this is the case, you may be able to quickly migrate your website to a mobile-optimized theme. By doing this, you and your company may be able to avoid costly development cycles and spin up a mobile optimized site quickly and efficiently.

Taking an Adaptive Approach

In some instances it may be be beneficial to quickly create another version of the site specifically for mobile users. This is often referred to as adaptive web design. This mobile-only version of your site would essentially exist in parallel with your desktop version and would only be served up to mobile users. The downside: In most cases you’d need to maintain two versions of your website.

Going Responsive

Potentially a larger time commitment, one option is to use a responsive framework like Twitter Bootstrap or Zurb Foundation 5 to build a new responsive website around your existing content. Granted, this solution would require some design and development cycles. However, if time is not a factor, this solution would give your audience an optimized experience across all platforms.

Temporarily Migrate

If time is your biggest factor, you may choose to temporarily migrate to a third-party service—like Squarespace—that offers mobile-first responsive design right out the gate. This stopgap could buy you time while you figure out a more permanent solution.

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