It’s always important to keep a finger on Google’s ever-changing pulse, and this year there is quite the buzz around a recent announcement.
There is an approaching update that could potentially cause a ripple of effect in search results. When traffic is at stake many tune in to hear the latest news, and it's fair to say that this has become the talk of the e-town.
This time, Google is all about mobile-friendliness. Now, I know that "mobile optimization" as a topic has been thrashed to death, but Google is finally stepping up to the plate and taking action, so this update could really change things.
It's kind of like how everyone talks about global warming/climate change, to the point where it becomes a constant murmur in the background that no one reacts to anymore.
But the polar caps have melted, the tsunami is on it's way and there'll be no more ignoring The Desktopocalypse.
How Important has Mobile-Friendliness Really Been So Far?
To be honest? Unless your site has a high mobile-to-desktop ratio, not that important.
Until now, the worst that can happen if you don’t have mobile optimization is that some of your users might get a little grumpy with your site when trying to navigate it on their phone.
Considering that some websites have a much higher percentage of desktop users compared to mobile, the change hasn't always been important enough to prioritize.
I asked Rand Fishkin about Moz's lack of mobile optimization, for example, and he confirmed that this has been the case for them:
"For Moz, as with many companies, it's been about tradeoffs. We've prioritized responsive design a number of times in the last few years, but pushed it back as more pressing concerns arose. The biggest reason we have yet to make the change is because the numbers haven't supported the move.
For example, here's the latest data from our analysis of traffic to the site via Cyrus Shepard (who heads our content team):
All of Moz.com - excluding Dev Blog and /rand. Includes tools (unsure if any of Moz Local is mobile friendly)
- Desktop: 89.55%
- Mobile: 7.95%
- Tablet: 2.05
Rand's Blog (which IS mobile friendly)
- Desktop: 78.93%
- Mobile: 16.81%
- Tablet: 4.26%
Dev Blog (which IS mobile friendly)
- Desktop: 88.63%
- Mobile: 8.62%
- Tablet: 2.75%
If you isolate out people specifically visiting the Moz Blog and YouMoz, the #s are a bit higher:
- Desktop: 83.89%
- Mobile: 12.59%
- Tablet: 3.52%
Folks using Moz Analytics are hardly ever on Mobile
- Desktop: 97.56%
- Mobile: 1.84%
- Tablet: 0.60%
A little more mobile usage in Research Tools, but still low.
- Desktop: 95.95%
- Mobile: 3.00%
- Tablet: 1.05%
We estimate that by making the content sections of our site mobile responsive, we could get closer to the numbers seen on the already responsive sections of our site - Rand's Blog and the Dev Blog. However, these deltas are small and it appears that even when we do go mobile-friendly, we probably won't get a huge bump in traffic."
Admittedly, Affilorama has the exact same percentage of desktop users as Moz, and we are mobile responsive already. So, for these sites at least, it really hasn't needed to be a priority thus far.
So Why is This so Much More Important All of a Sudden?
Google has announced an update for April 21st that will potentially penalize the ranking of non-mobile-friendly sites.
For any who don't already know, a recent Google announcement has indicated that it will be increasing the importance of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal:
Basically, the time has come that the search giants are responding to the mobile movement. Web marketing expert John Moffitt has predicted the effect Google's changes will have on any site that hasn't optimized for mobile:
They will lose significant business or opportunities as the year progresses. Mobile unfriendly websites are like fine restaurants that haven't changed over the years. While their old customers will come back because of the great food, new customers will not because the restaurant is old, the decor is dated, and the restaurant is hard to find on a map.
It looks like you might not be too happy with your search rankings come April if your website isn't optimized for mobile users. This is why Rand concluded his earlier statement with this:
"All that said, we're planning to have it in the next few months. I'm actually hoping we don't launch it before April 21st so we can see show the results of how Google's algorithmic changes impact our rankings/search traffic. I'm happy to take a hit to help show the SEO community what it looks like (or doesn't) :-)"
We can't be certain how big the actual impact will be until then, but I know that I am just one of many who will be very interested to see when the results come in.
Fortunately, if you are concerned for your site's ranking, you can safeguard yourself against this update fairly simply.
The Great Update of April is coming: How to Check Whether Your Site is Responsive
There are a variety of options for testing your site, so just pick the one below that suits you most.
The first thing you'll want to do is check for sure whether your site is, in fact, mobile responsive at this point in time.
There are three main ways that I’d suggest to check for mobile responsiveness. I understand that different people process information in different ways, so there are options for simple at-a-glance results, to full detail reports:
Option 1: Responsive Checker at Elvin Web Marketing (Mobile responsiveness at a glance)
If you’re a visual person, this will be a good option for you. Simply enter your website address, or the address of one of your web pages, and look at the sample displays.
Basically, if you have to scroll left or right to see parts of your page, your site is likely not responsive, and you’ll need to change that ASAP.
Option 2: Google’s Simple, Mobile-Friendly Test (Quick individual page check with google)
This is Google's quick page checker. You enter the URLs for individual pages, and it tells you if your page is mobile responsive or not and why.
Option 3: Webmaster Tools Mobile Usability (Full Report of Affected Pages)
This is the Webmaster Tools test, which will tell you every page on your website that isn't mobile responsive, and for what reasons. It's much more thorough than just a yea or nay on your website's overall mobile responsiveness, so if you build and manage your own website, this would be the most useful option for you.
If You DO Already Have a Mobile Responsive Site...
That’s great! Congratulations, you've potentially dodged a bullet.
If you're site is already mobile responsive, this update will more likely help than hinder your SEO. If you want to be thorough, try reading this blog post about on-page SEO tweaks, or use AffiloTools Health Check to make sure everything else on your website is up to scratch for SEO.
If You DON’T Have a Mobile Responsive Website...
No need to fret, you can still make the change.
The right course of action depends on whether you build your own site, or have someone else do that for you.
If You DO Build Your Own Site: Look for themes tagged with “Mobile responsive.” Try this search for responsive WordPress themes.
Here are some examples:
If you look at the previews for these themes and make your browser window larger or smaller, you can see if the information on the page shrinks or grows to accommodate the change. If it adjusts accordingly, the theme is showing to be responsive and you should consider it for your website. If it doesn't, you might want to think about trying a different one instead.
*Note: If you don't use WordPress and you write your website by code, try this guide for "Making a website responsive in 3 easy steps."
If You DON'T Build Your Own Site: Ask your web designer about going responsive, and soon!
A Note About Mobile Devices and Affiliate Marketing
One other thing to consider is the impact that all these mobile devices will have on affiliate marketing. When Affiliates are relying on cookies to get them commissions, the cross-device issue becomes a big one.
You can read more about it here. It's something affiliates will have to think about for the future. How do you get people to buy the product right then, or on the same device? How do you track across devices?
Hopefully the technology will adapt as the daily use of multiple devices spreads like chicken pox in an elementary school.
QUESTION: I'd love to know, is your website mobile responsive? Why or why not? If not, do you think you will make the change in preparation for April? Let me know in the comments below.