Will your site still rank on Google come April 21?

google-on-phone-copyAccording to Comscore, we are now past the tipping point. Usage of mobile has exceeded desktop. It would follow that the majority of Google searches are now conducted on a mobile device of some kind, be that a smartphone, tablet, game console or other device. The reality is consumers are “multiscreening.”  One might start a search for a product on a desktop and continue their research on a smartphone prior to actually entering the retailer’s store to make a purchase…if one enters a brick and mortar location at all.

So, if you are the leading search engine with the goal of making it “as easy as possible for you to find the information you need and get the things you need to do done,” what are you going to do to allow for a consistent experience for your users across all devices?  On February 26, 2015, Google made this statement: “As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns. 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.”

In other words, your site better be mobile-friendly by April 21st or it may slip down the rankings of Google.

Unsure? Run your site’s url through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. If the message returned is “Not mobile-friendly,” what are your options?

A mobile site, generally the cheapest option, is usually built on a subdomain so that it still remains a part of the main domain. Since the site is designed specifically for mobile view, in theory, it should be the most mobile friendly. This type of site also allows the focus to be on the mobile user’s intent. A user might interact with a business differently on a mobile phone versus a desktop. So it stands to reason that because a mobile site will be completely optimized for the user and platform, this option should generate a high conversion rate. The downside is that two sites need to be maintained which can be inefficient and less cost effective in the log run.

A responsive site is often touted as the gold standard. Even Google recommends it out of the three mobile configurations. A responsive site can handle any resolution and any device from a mobile phone to a full sized desktop monitor. The same HTML code is delivered to each device, but tweaks to CSS allow adjustments to suit the screen’s form factor. This option is often the most expensive up front, but with only a single site to maintain, lower maintenance costs can make it a good long term choice. There is a downside to responsively designed sites. Remember user intent? What if 90% of the time your mobile customers really only need or want to take a single specific action from their phone to engage with you? The entire site is downloaded on the mobile device, which in some cases can create slow loading. Bloat. Bad user experience.

I would argue that an adaptively designed site could be the best option. Sorry Google. The server hosting the adaptively delivered website detects the user’s device and delivers a specific batch of HTML and CSS code optimized for that specific device. The user experience is completely customized and any content delivered is optimized to the mobile device and the user’s intent. There is little bloat. The consumer is delivered only the assets, images and content that makes sense allowing for faster download and a better user experience. This should generate the highest conversion. And with less than a month until the change in Google’s algorithm, this option might be best for developers of large, complex or older sites. No need to go back to the drawing board to completely re-build the site.

When making your decision about how to meet Google’s latest requirements, I suggest considering your customers’ needs first while still satisfying your business goals. And you better hop to it!

Categories: General, SEO, Web Strategy

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