Be warned – Judgment Day is near. Google Terminator is about to change your search engine ranking forever. On April 21, Google will launch a search algorithm update that favors mobile-friendly websites. If your site provides users with an optimized mobile experience, you’re going to see a boost in SERPS ranking. But if your site requires users to zoom in to read text or if you’re still using outdated features such as Flash, the Terminator will find you. Here is Google’s proclamation about the change:
“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.”
Full announcement here.
Why Is this Happening?
It was just a normal day at the arcade, until Google Terminator showed up. But hey, you’ve got to hand it to Google for constantly striving to provide users with the highest quality, most authoritative, most relevant content from sources that deliver the best possible user experience. That last factor – user experience – is the key here. We’ve seen numerous updates over the years enforcing higher standards in content quality and frequency. Updates like Panda and Penguin changed the game for content marketers. Next week’s change is the first significant update focused on the interface through which content is delivered.
This is Google’s response to the prolific shift in content consumption that smartphones have ushered in. Since the mid 2000s, our growing adoption, infatuation and utter dependence on smartphones has spurred innovative new development platforms, specifically, the invent of responsive design, a term first coined by Ethan Marcotte in his A List Apart paper. Responsive design leverages responsive code. This enables content elements within a web page to resize and realign themselves according to a grid system that represents common screen sizes. Responsive design frameworks, including Bootstrap and Foundation, along with thousands of WordPress and Drupal themes make it possible for one set of code files to “respond” to the screen size being used. This eliminates the need for separate mobile and desktop sites, and provides users with the best possible user experience across all devices.
Google wants people to find exactly what they’re searching for, as quickly as possible. Responsive websites make it easier to do so on mobile phones. With mobile devices approaching 30% of all organic search traffic globally, this is the natural move Google has to make.
Mobile-Friendly vs. Responsive
Quick note: Google is using the term “mobile-friendly” which is much less specific than the technical term “responsive.” The reason for this is that responsive code is today’s solution for ensuring mobile compatibility. It is today’s most effective means to ensure that content presents itself optimally across smaller screens. As developers innovate and brainstorm new ideas, the method may change (think Arnold’s T-100 vs the liquid metal T-1000). What’s most important by Google’s standard is that the website must satisfy the following criteria:
- It 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
Today, responsive frameworks provide the best tools to achieve these ends.
So, What Should I Do?
First step: use this Google tool to check if your site is mobile-friendly. Simply type your website URL into the field, and click “analyze.” The tool will respond positively if your site meets the new criteria. If not, you’ll receive messages indicating areas that will need improvement. If you pass the test, you’ll be in good shape to ride the wave of change. If not, say “hasta la vista” to your prime search page real estate. The fact is you’ll have to update at some point soon in order to restore your past search engine prominence, and keep pace with your competitors. Fortunately, responsive design is now the absolute standard in website design and development, so any designer, developer or creative agency partner will be able provide you with a solution.
How We Can Help
Of course, at Punch, responsive website design is our bread and butter. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning, and it’s one of the most important ways we make our clients successful online. See some of our recent work here, or contact us today to learn more.
*Disclaimer: the latest Google update is not actually called Google Terminator. We made that up. But the update and it’s repercussions are real!
Punch Digital Strategies is a creative agency for bold brands. We provide digital marketing strategy that helps clients brand for growth and engage with customers online. We design websites that inspire action, and help clients generate leads through content marketing and social media. With services tailored to meet the needs of start-ups, B2C, B2B and non-profit organizations, we make bold brands stand out. Learn more at AddSomePunch.com.