The Google Algorithm That Will Change Your Website
As a business owner, you understand the importance of being visible online. 10 or 15 years ago, it was important to advertise on billboards, TV, the radio, and the yellow pages – essentially, anywhere a future customer might be looking. Today, getting in front of your prospective customer means being online. It means having a user-friendly website; being on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter; and having a powerful online reputation via reviews. Now, with this latest Google algorithm update, it is increasingly important that your website is also mobile-friendly.
The Era of Mobilegeddon
In March 2015, Google announced that starting in April 2015, sites would start to be penalized in searches if they were not mobile-friendly. You read that right – Google gave website owners just about a month to make their website algorithm-compliant. Many marketers and website designers referred to this revelation as “Mobilegeddon,” as they feared watching their hard-earned search ranking plummet overnight. Some business owners had secured the top two positions thanks to 10 or 15 years of search history. However, with Mobilegeddon, they would lose their prime spot to brand-new companies that simply had a mobile-friendly website. Website owners and website developers scrambled to get as many websites compliant as possible in the less than 30 days they had to do so.
Today, with the algorithm changing to “mobile-first,” website owners are experiencing a new era of Mobilegeddon.
Transitioning to Mobile-First
With mobile-first indexing, Google is going to prioritize search results by listing websites that are mobile-friendly before sites that are desktop-only, even if the user is searching from a desktop browser. Ultimately, this is done for several reasons. One of the major reasons is that in 2016, mobile searches (searches done from a cellphone or tablet) overtook the number of searches done from a desktop or laptop. While the most important consideration is how users interface with the search results, Google is going to prioritize websites that are mobile-friendly first as a way to reward website owners that are dynamic and want to be as visible as possible (and, thus, making Google’s job easier). If users search “riding lessons in [your area],” websites that have been frequently interacted with historically will rank in order; however, those that are mobile-friendly will automatically appear before those that are not.
Solutions to Ranking
There ultimately are three ways you can comply with this new algorithmic requirement. First – you can create a separate mobile website that will be a watered-down version of your full desktop website. Essentially, you will be making it easier for users to navigate the “meat and potatoes” of your website, rather than provide full access. Many marketers will argue that providing a watered-down mobile version negatively impacts your SEO, as less content and links are available. This will possibly be double-down with the mobile-first algorithm, as Google may only be crawling and indexing the mobile version. Alternatively, you can utilize a subdomain and HTTP header to essentially mark your website as mobile-friendly.
The most reliant way to be mobile-first compliant is to make your website responsive. A responsive website will automatically shrink down your full-size website to different screen sizes. The full browser version will look different from the tablet-sized version, which will look different from cellphone-sized version. This can be done or checked manually by shrinking and expanding your website in a desktop browser. While the different sizes will have a slightly different look and feel, the website will ultimately be the same, only collapsed. The navigation bars will be clickable to expand the menu options, and other navigational features will also be simplified. To get the most out of a responsive design, you will want to keep as much information “above the fold” as possible, with the most user-friendly navigation possible. Remember – simplicity is key.
Accounting for “Hidden” Content
Hidden content, or content that lives within a “read more” function of your website, will still be seamlessly crawled and indexed by Google. Ultimately, this is only a concern for blog- and article-centered websites.
The Fallout of Mobile-First
With Mobilegeddon, users were privy to the exact date that websites would start being penalized (which was April 1, 2015). However, the “mobile-first” algorithm is going to be gradually integrated with no specific start date or completion date. Chances are that some sites have already been affected. For now, your website will be indexed for mobile and desktop separately; however, Google fully intends to move to one index: mobile. However, as mobile searches are completed more frequently than searches from desktops, you can be assured that if your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you will be penalized organically, as mobile users will bounce (immediately leave your site) when your site isn’t optimized for mobile users.