As of April 21, Google revamped its search engine algorithm to favor sites that are optimized for mobile. This means websites that Google believes play nice with smartphones and tablets will be pushed up in its search results that are initiated on cell phones, while others (with text that becomes hard to read on smaller screens, for example) will fall lower on the list. Google announced the upcoming changes in February, but even major websites like Wikipedia and the BBC currently fail Google’s test.
The update — the largest in two years — may seem like just another software tweak or geeky news tidbit, but falling lower in searches could significantly ding real revenue. Where Google positions a site in search queries is crucial to the amount of eyeballs it reaches. Over 65 percent of searchers click on one of the top five results in a Google search and only about 4 percent move past the first page of results, according to studies.
Previous updates, like Panda in 2011, showed these algorithm changes can have real and costly effects. Google’s Panda update, which focused on low-quality and spammy sites, affected 12 percent of all Google searches. It also caused massive headaches for “content farms” like Suite101, which saw its search engine visibility drop more than 90 percent. Suite101 shut down its website entirely two years later.
The new update could be especially hard for small business owners who usually don’t have a team of web designers at their beck and call. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can make sure your website is ready for Google’s new update.
Test Your Site
Google provides a quick and free Mobile-Friendly Test to determine if your website is mobile-friendly according to its new search algorithm. The test conveniently lists how a site fails — the BBC website, for example, includes text too small to read and links too close together. It also shows how the algorithm sees the site and offers different actions to take.
Obviously, you should also occasionally check out your website on different smartphones or tablets anyway. While this won’t reveal how Google sees your site, it will show you how many of your customers experience it.
Optimize for Mobile
There are several ways to optimize a website for mobile. The easiest way to do this is with a responsive design, meaning a website that will automatically reconfigure itself for any screen size. WordPress has many responsive-design web templates, making it easy if you already run a blog or site through the service. Just make sure that your WordPress theme is marked “responsive” and it will translate over most devices.
It’s also possible to buy a separate domain name that is mobile only, although this can muddy search results and is more expensive. Services like bMobilized (which offers plans starting at $8 per month) will build a customized site to which you can redirect mobile web visitors.
It’s Not Just About the Algorithm
Of course, you should focus on mobile optimization not just because of Google rankings, but because mobile is quickly becoming the primary platform that many people use to go online. More than 50 percent of shoppers visit e-commerce sites from a mobile device, studies suggest.
When testing and building your mobile site, ask what you want it to do for your business. Do you just need to show an address, business hours, or menu front and center? Are you more concerned with providing flashy content and showing off a flair for design? If you’re focused on e-commerce, you might want to even consider your own mobile app. These questions will be your guiding light in designing your mobile site.