On February 26, 2015, Google announced that it would, on April 21, 2015, be changing its ranking algorithms for searches conducted on mobile devices — smartphones and tablets — to factor in whether or not a website is “mobile friendly.”
If your site is responsive or adaptive (i.e., reformats layout and content for optimal display on whatever device is being used to access the site) or you redirect to a mobile version of your site (e.g. mobile.your-site.com or m.your-site.com), then you have nothing to worry about with this Google update.
But if your website isn’t responsive/adaptive, it will not rank as high in search results on these mobile devices as it does on desktop or laptop computers, and you will see your Google search rankings drop, perhaps precipitously.
Here’s what Google announced:
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.
How will this change affect your rankings? Is it a Big One?
A Google representative stated that this algorithm change will be bigger than Google’s 2012 Panda update (which targeted “low-quality” and “thin” sites) and its 2012 Penguin update (which targeted sites utilizing “black-hat SEO” techniques to artificially boost rankings).
In it’s blog update about this change, Google provides a good illustration showing the difference between a non-mobile-friendly and mobile-friendly website on a smartphone:
How to Make your Website Mobile Friendly
Here at HyperArts we build all websites to be responsive/mobile friendly and have done so for the past several years. We generally use the WordPress CMS platform to build these responsive sites and, these days, most of the available WordPress themes are responsive and thus mobile friendly.
We have also occasionally modified non-responsive sites built by other shops to be adaptive (similar to responsive but rather than the site being reformatted for any screen width, it targets specific “break points” — widths — at which the site will reformat for mobile.
Here are your options if your current website is not mobile friendly:
- Have a new, responsive, website developed for your business or organization: You can, of course, hire a web-development shop (such as HyperArts) to build you a new website and a custom theme to accommodate your design preferences and functional requirements.
However, if your budget isn’t sufficient to have a custom theme developed, there are many free and commercial themes available for the WordPress or Drupal CMS platforms. We recommend going with commercial themes as the providers of these themes are actual businesses, and likely to provide updates and support. I suggest avoiding free themes because these tend to be built by hobbyists who may very likely abandon the upkeep of the theme which is crucial. WordPress and Drupal are continually evolving and sometimes a theme may need an update to continue working.
- Hire a web-development shop or developer to modify your site to be adaptive: Depending on how your current site was built, it may be less expensive to have a developer set up your site to reformat to optimize it for smartphones and, if necessary, tablets. Sometimes this really isn’t the most economical way to make your website mobile friendly, depending on its scale and how it was programmed.
- Use a website builder service: For those with a small budget for a new site, there are also low-cost options where you use a service such as Squarespace or Wix. These services provide many mobile-friendly templates from which to choose.
- WordPress plugins and Drupal modules for a quick fix: If you have a WordPress or Drupal site that isn’t responsive, there are a number of WordPress plugins and Drupal modules available to at least create a quick ‘n’ dirty mobile theme to satisfy Google’s requirement for mobile friendliness.
Having built new websites and also modified older sites to be adaptive, we at HyperArts feel that the best solution for the long term is to invest in a new website. If your website isn’t mobile friendly, it probably looks and behaves like an older site in other ways.
Design paradigms have changed pretty dramatically in the past couple of years and WordPress and Drupal are now well established and are great solutions to use for your next-generation website.
How to Check if Your Website is Mobile Friendly
If you’re not sure whether or not your website is mobile friendly, Google has made it very easy for website owners to view their website as Google sees it, setting up a page on Webmaster Tools where you can enter the URL of one of your site’s pages and get Google’s take on its mobile friendliness, with a screenshot, as well. Here’s the result for the HyperArts home page:
And the nifty screenshot:
So there it is. Below are some resources to dig a bit deeper. And feel free to ask questions in the comments.