Google have announced that from 21 April 2015 they will be making 'mobile friendliness' a much more important 'ranking' factor for mobile search results. This means that if you don't have website that is optimised to work on a handheld device it is almost certain that you will see a slide in your website ranking on searches that are made on a mobile, and one can reasonably assume that this will be accompanied by a loss of site traffic. Google tends to eschew dramatic algorithm changes, so when they announce both the date an update is happening and refer to it as having a ‘significant impact’ on search results it’s time to sit up and take note.
It’s been on the cards for a while now, with recent Google additions and developments such as: adding ’mobile-friendly’ labels in mobile search results pages (SERPs); routinely alerting webmasters to mobile website issues and increasing the mobile functionality of their pagespeed tool. But following the announcement it’s official, ‘mobile friendliness’ will become a very much more important ranking factor for mobile search results.
Why are Google doing this?
It's all about User Experience (UX). For some time now Google have been placing more emphasis on ranking sites that give the user a better and more engaging experience. Gone are the days of static websites full of boring pages of text. It's now about giving your visitors an enjoyable and valuable experience with engaging and useful material. And of course more people than ever are using handheld devices to access the web. It is generally considered that the mobile vs. desktop search has reached tipping point with more searches on Google now being carried out on mobile devices (http://www.smartinsights.com/mobile-marketing/mobile-marketing-analytics/mobile-marketing-statistics/) so even without this push from Google having a responsive website is vital.
It also now looks like Google is advocating 'responsive sites' over dedicated mobile sites as it believes it provides a better user experience and is less prone to errors, reading between the lines of this latest announcement it may also be possible that responsive websites may also be given preference over dedicated mobile sites, but either way now is the time to get mobile.
What is a 'responsive website' and why is it so important?
A responsive website is one that is designed to work on any size of device, be it handheld or desktop. It works by responding to the size and orientation of the screen being used to view the site displaying the site content in a way that is specifically designed to appear on the size/format of the screen it's being viewed on.
Five reasons as to why you should go responsive:
- Google will love you - see above
- a better UX for everyone - responsive design means that as well as rendering a design relevant for the device the url is the same whatever the device so if a link is shared it will be the same on desktop and mobile. all of which needs leads on to ...
- Mobile users are social (networks) - if you think about it when was the last time you went to twitter on a desktop? that's you and everyone else it seems, social engagement on mobile devices is much higher including sharing, according to research by ShareThis (http://www.sharethis.com/learn/knowledge-center/research-2/mobile-vs-desktop-a-cross-device-user-study/#sthash.BkeyCPpW.dpbs) up to twice as high.
- Mobile users do it faster - around 70% of mobile searches lead to actions within the hour (http://www.iacquire.com/blog/mobile-behavior-big-game-seating-a-study-with-surveymonkey). this makes a lot of sense, mobile devices are ever present when we need them, so when on the commute home after a long day it seems like a good idea to buy a playstation it's easy to just fire up google and get shopping (and then feel guilty later). whilst we're talking about shopping, it is projected that the value of mcommerce sales will go from $214million in 2013 to $626million in 2018, in the UK 38% of people were making purchases on their mobile last year, a percentage that is only going up. (http://www.pfsweb.com/blog/global-mobile-commerce-growth-infographic/)
- One screen bad, 3 screens better - the world is multiscreen, research carried out by Google (http://googlemobileads.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/navigating-new-multi-screen-world.html) found that 90% of people will move between screens to complete what they were doing. This can either sequential or concurrent, either way having a consistent brand and engaging experience across devices is important for your users. If your site doesn't provide this there is every chance your users will gravitate towards one that does.
Suggested Further Reading:
If You're Not Responsive, People Will Leave You Alone.
The Trinity of Web Design and Development