April 21st is Mobilegeddon, the day mobile search changes

Thursday, March 12, 2015
Grant Whiteside
SEO

There’s nothing like a good sensationalist headline to get people listening. On April 21st Google will rank its results differently and websites that are not mobile friendly will be penalised. So if you’ve been sticking your head in the sand for the past 3 years; stop it, it’s now going to hurt your business even more so than previously.

As we all wait in anticipation and ‘The day the world went mobile’ approaches, this article will give you some tips on what Google is looking for, what tools you can use and some practical steps that may help you with this transitional period.

Taking it from the horse’s mouth, Google recently stated, “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.”

There are decisions to be made. If you have not built a website friendly yet, should you create a site that is mobile specific, or use a responsive design?

Mobile Specific Website

The pros of building a mobile specific website is you can fully embrace a mobile experience, cut down in size, with less navigational options, it can optimise the user experience and the content that is specific or even exclusive to the mobile experience. It will undoubtedly increase specific conversions rates.

However, the device market is constantly changing. Mobile screen widths now range from 320 pixels wide to 1024 pixels wide, therefore finding an optimal display resolution can be a problem. It is not cost effective to have a separate version for each different screen resolution.   Therefore considering the reasons why your mobile audience use your website is of importance.

Having a brand new website with a new URL structure means to say that you are starting again, there will be no links from external authoritative sources linking to your pages, so if organic search engine visibility is important, consider the costs of marketing two specific entities. Link building for mobile websites is a new and different experience that will continue to evolve over the years to come.

A slimmed down website specific to mobile needs a different content strategy that engages the mobile user. Understanding the user journeys from your current mobile audience is an important exercise to undertake. However taking into consideration the disappointing experience that your users may have had, you should look at the entry points, the exit pages, time on each page, user journeys, conversions and returning visitors should give you a better idea of what is going to work for you. If you do share content on both your desk top and mobile specific versions of your website, remember to use the canonical tag to avoid duplicate content issues.

Responsive Website

There are pros and cons to using a responsive design. You don’t have to bother with screen resolutions; you also don’t have to consider a different linking strategy, nor the considerations of a mobile specific content strategy.

However industry standards suggest that conversion rates are lower on responsive websites that that on mobile specific websites, and the initial build cost of a responsive can be more expensive as it needs to consider how all your content (and operator specific ) content works over a number of devices and platforms.

Tablet Design

Tablets design is not a consideration in this up and coming update. They will be crawled, indexed and ranked in the same that way desk top websites are for the foreseeable future.

Next Steps..

We’ve already discussed how you should be using analytics to measure your websites engagement metrics. If you’re already out your depth try benchmarking your business and digital assets using a research and analytics audit.

If you’re through your initial findings and you need to refresh your content strategy to your growing mobile audience, consider going for a content marketing audit.

There are some handy tools that measure key elements like load time, that also critique your technical make up, identifying how and where your current website is going wrong.

The most popular but critical mistakes include Java script placement, Style sheet placement, Setting absolute dimensions in your CSS, having too many DOM elements in your code and inappropriate use of ETag headers that hinder the load speed of cached elements of your pages.

Try using this mobile friendly test or the Google mobile friendly test  as a starting point to look at the technical elements of your website before you consider how it may affect your marketing, sales and business goals.

The mobile space and how Google embraces mobile engagement will continue to evolve. However if you’re searching on Google looking for your brand, and it isn’t highlighted as Mobile-friendly underneath the URL, you’ve got work to do between now and mid April.

Good articles related to mobile friendly search include:

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/helping-users-find-mobile-friendly-pages.html

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-usability

https://developers.google.com/webmasters/mobile-sites/website-software/