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When was the last time you used Google to look something up, yesterday?  Today?  Five minutes ago?

Google is the powerhouse in the online search world, and it works hard to keep its search engine the best at what it does.  Most of this work goes on behind the scenes, as programmers hammer away at their keyboards to give Google users the best search experience possible.  Every year or two, however, Google announces an all-at-once major overhaul to how it will decide where a site ranks in its search results.

In just a few days – on April 21st, to be exact – one of these big updates is coming your way, and Google has been very clear that the focus will be on the mobile experience.  Specifically, Google says that how “mobile friendly” a site is will now factor into where that site will rank when relevant keywords are searched.  In a statement released back in February foreshadowing the update, Google wrote, “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.”

“Why the big change?  What does it mean for me?”

Google knows that more people than ever use their phones to look things up now.  Estimates show that between 30-70% of all relevant searches from your target market are now conducted on a mobile device.  This number is even higher when dealing in products that service an immediate need and are relatively inexpensive, like food and household necessities.  Google’s update, then, is their way of making sure users are able to easily navigate results, no matter how they’re searching.

The impact of the updated, named “Mobile-geddon,” will vary from business to business, but it is likely to affect everyone at some point; even if you’re in an industry with low mobile traffic now, the trends from year-to-year are clear, and mobile searches will become important to your business sooner rather than later.

In simple terms:  If your website isn’t setup to be mobile-friendly, your search engine rankings, and therefore your traffic from potential customers, will be negatively affected.

“How Can I Make Sure My Site Is Mobile Friendly?” 

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test:  Google knows that such a shakeup of their search results has the potential to mess with the wellbeing of business owners, so they haven’t left you completely out in the cold.  They’ve created a mobile-friendly test here: www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/ where you can get a ‘mobile report card’ on your own website simply by typing in its address. 


You’ll also get to see a preview of how your site looks on a mobile screen.

 If your site looks good to Google, you’ll get congratulated.  If not, they’ll provide you with some suggestions to bring things up to par. 

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Take the “Footsteps Test”:  Put yourself into your customers’ shoes and walk through your mobile experience as they would.  Google has proven that they’re good at ranking sites based on user experience, and they reward websites who make this experience better.

Visit your company’s website on your own phone and try to conduct the various tasks your customers carry out.  Are buttons big enough?  Is text readable without zooming in to an extreme degree? 

Rather than use their mobile sites as a fully functional tool, unfortunately, many businesses opt to approach mobile as a small, dumbed down version of their actual site – this can be extremely frustrating for your users!  Make sure you can do the same things on your mobile site that you can do on the desktop version.  All along the way, ask yourself:  “If I were a customer right now, would I be satisfied, or frustrated?  Would I use this company again based on what I was able to accomplish purely on mobile, or would I look elsewhere?”

Separation: If you don’t have the technical know-how yourself, ask your web designer about setting up your website to be responsive.  So that images, text, and other elements change their size and behavior based upon the width of a screen and/or the device someone is visiting your site on.

In other cases, you can host a completely different version of your site that is presented when a mobile device visits your URL (these are usually hosted as subdomains and look like “m.website.com” or something similar).  With this setup, mobile users will see a completely different version of your site formatted just for them!

Give Them The ChoiceRegardless of how your mobile site is setup, the diversity of phone types means that someone out there is probably going to visit your site and have it behave differently than you intended.  When this happens, there is nothing more frustrating than being trapped in the mobile version of a site that doesn’t work.  Give users the option of switching to the desktop version of a site even if they are on a mobile device; this is often times presented via a “switch” type button or link near the bottom of the website that says something like “View Desktop Version.”  Sure, you want users to experience your (now wonderfully optimized!) mobile site, but when that doesn’t work out they’ll certainly appreciate the ability to still accomplish what they came for.

Content Considerations:  Lastly, having solid website content will likely continue to be a major ranking factor in Google’s eyes, so try and be clever about how your content is displayed on mobile.  For example, it’s not farfetched that you might achieve better mobile rankings in time by doing things like…

  • Adjusting font sizes so that they are easier to read or better fill a phone screen.
  • Placing certain content that may be more relevant to mobile users higher up on your page.  An example of this might be a takeout restaurant moving its menu further down the page in favor of at-a-glance information mobile users might be scanning for like hours of operation, phone number, minimum order amount for delivery, etc.

In any event, it’s a safe bet that thinking of your customers first, now as an army of mobile users, will always be seen as favorable in Google’s eyes.  It’s likely that this update is just the beginning, and future changes will reward ongoing and responsive changes to better accommodate the mobile lenses through which users experience your website.

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