Google announces biggest algorithm change in years

Search Engine Optimization (often referred to as SEO), is a major concept when constructing and maintaining websites. In a nutshell, it’s the process of creating your website in a way that appears most favorable to Google, Bing, and dozens of search engines in an effort to appear higher on searches and generate more organic traffic to websites. SEO is so important to some businesses and fields that being on the first page of Google results is the only reason that they remain in business. Almost no traffic goes to websites that rank on the second page or later, so it is not difficult to understand why it is important to make sure that Google can scan your site and index it for searches. Many factors go into where your website places on the internet. Website age, quality of website, number of times certain words are mentioned, how many links are on a page, and hundreds of more factors are taken into consideration. Google is constantly updating their algorithm to ensure that the most relevant websites are being featured first. Historically, any changes to this algorithm are minor and behind closed doors. However, this week Google announced that their algorithm will change on April 21st to greatly favor websites that offer a version consistent on all devices. Before reading further, check with Google to see if your website is mobile-friendly.

SEO Changes

For as long as web design and SEO has existed, search engines have favored websites that are updated more frequently, use newer standards of design, and function on all devices. For the first time, the massive search engine is making a statement of the necessity of a mobile website. And while some business owners who rely on search traffic are scrambling to find a solution for their website, this change, while drastic, is a good one. If your website does not have a mobile version (or is responsive, I will explain the difference later) starting April 21, 2015, your website will begin to lose its ranking on Google mobile searches, and eventually on searches from all devices. The reasoning behind this is quite sound. According to a variety of sources, anywhere from 30% to 60% of internet traffic is now done from a mobile device, including iPhones, iPads, and other smartphones and tablets. This huge jump in the last five years has generated new markets and gave consumers a great way to get online. This means more traffic, but also has other consequences. For example, mobile users do not spend as much time on your website as a normal desktop user and if they cannot find your information in the first 10 seconds of being on your website, they are unlikely to return.

So what does all of this information mean? Well, if your website doesn’t load well on mobile devices, you have lost a great deal of potential revenue. Over the course of the last few years, you may not have noticed this or even thought about how your website’s presence on an iPhone could cause your customer who just wants to know what hours you are open to go to the restaurant across the street just since they have a more friendly website. Now, for the first time, Google is going to hit you where it hurts: your search ranking. With this announcement, it is not difficult to spot the trend towards a more mobile-friendly Internet world. Even if it wasn’t for Google’s strict new policies, I would encourage any person who cares about their online presence to get a new website that is responsive, or to build a mobile version of their website.

Mobile or Responsive?

If you were to read through this blog post, or any internet marketing source, you would hear terms including “mobile-friendly”, “mobile site”, and “responsive”, but what is the difference between a responsive site and a mobile site? First of all, you are reading this on a responsive site. This means if you open this on your MacBook, then go home and look at it on your iPad only to forget a point later and refer back to it on your Android Smartphone, the website will appear similar with the same design aesthetics, look, and feel. This is because a responsive website is designed to adjust to the size of your screen so regardless if you are viewing this on a small device or a 27 inch desktop, the result is the same. Responsive websites are fairly new and are a great substitute to the older-looking mobile websites. Mobile websites are a separate website that is developed to supplement the existing webpage and operates independently. Ten or so years back, when iPhones truly cemented themselves as being the standard smartphone, mobile websites took off. These websites were developed to look like a smartphone application and function perfectly on mobile devices. This of course was true until other smartphones, tablets, and devices began to enter the market, and then you had an iPhone website looking clunky on an Android device, etc. These websites do tend to be a cheaper option to develop, and I encourage you to look at the pros and cons below to decide what your business needs.

Mobile Websites

This form of mobile web development became extremely popular when the iPhone began to quickly take over the market share of smartphones that was dominated by Blackberry. These websites all take on a similar form and have the appearance of an iPhone application. From 2008 until 2012, this form of mobile web development was the principal way of getting your website to appear on a smaller screen, at the cost of some branding, customizability, and appearance on non-iPhone devices. In terms of SEO, Google began to favor these websites on their mobile searches, but overall having a mobile website only made sense for restaurants and businesses that relied on mobile traffic. At the time, most consumers still relied on laptops and desktops for most of their browsing needs, and very few people ever felt comfortable placing orders and using their credit card on the website. Today, that isn’t the case for multiple reasons. Primarily, the mobile websites look more like their desktop counterparts, so users are more likely to trust the website for information and to purchase products/services.

Responsive Websites

Unlike mobile websites, responsive websites are a single website that loads the same content on all devices. This form of web design has only been prevalent since 2013, but in the shorts year and a half that it has existed, responsive web design has caught on rapidly. However, less than one percent of all webpages are responsive. While that number is rapidly growing, it means that almost all websites are developed with a single device or two in mind (i.e. desktop computers and iPhones). Responsive webpages adapt to the screen sizes that they are on, meaning that your website will load the same on all devices. Take for example our website shown in the picture to the right: the branding, look and feel for all the devices are the same, but the website automatically adjusts itself to provide the best experience possible based on your screen size. Test the functionality out! Grab a corner of your browser and drag your screen to different sizes. When Google implements the mobile-requirements, these websites will pass since they can be viewed perfectly on all devices. When the iPad came out in mid-2010, web developers were stuck at a crossroad. Do they try and push the mobile version on their users since an iPad is similar to an iPhone, or do they try and push the full experience of a desktop onto a much smaller screen even though it’s larger than a phone? Responsive websites are truly the answer to that dilemma, since there doesn’t have to be any guesswork regarding screen sizes and what might change in the future.

  • Pros of Mobile Design
    • Most mobile-friendly solution
    • Can be developed without having to redo entire site
    • Allows users to find information quickly
  • Cons of Mobile Design
    • Lack customization
    • Separate from the existing website
    • Often built for a single device (iPhone) so other users have a worse experience
    • Mobile websites somewhat being phased out
  • Pros of Responsive Design
    • Perfect on all devices
    • It’s the same website on all devices
    • Future-proof with changing screen sizes and new devices
    • Google recommends this
  • Cons of Responsive Design
    • More expensive than a mobile website
    • Often involves redoing the entire website

Closing Thoughts

Even if it wasn’t for Google changing their standards, Fuerza Design (and every web design firm) would recommend that you adjust your website on a regular basis to ensure that it is operating on all devices and your customers can view your content. As more and more traffic becomes mobile (30% and counting), it is time for you to get a website that loads on all devices. Whether you chose a mobile website or a responsive website isn’t as important as ensuring that your next customer won’t be frustrated when trying to find a piece of information on their iPad, iPhone, Galaxy Tablet, or whatever new devices are revealed in the future. If you are reading this after April 21st, 2015, don’t fret too much. While Google has already begun punishing your ranking on mobile and desktop searches, there is time to remedy your SEO with a new web design. Google has always stated that they rank websites to provide their customers with the most relevant information. Now is an opportunity to make sure that what you are providing is still the most relevant.