On Tuesday, November 18, 2014, Google announced it would start rolling out “mobile-friendly” labels to its search results. Why? Websites that aren't mobile friendly create poor user experiences so decided to mark mobile friendly websites clearly for their mobile users and, in turn, mark down websites that aren't mobile friendly.
This was an important development for mobile users. They could finally find the information they wanted on a website that was compatible with their devices. Mobile-friendly websites saw a boost in traffic from this adjustment, but it didn’t have much of an impact on search engine rankings.
But then, 3 months later on Thursday February 26, 2015, Google warned that website rankings would be affected by how mobile-friendly they are. To quote the official Google Webmaster blog:
“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.”
Right away, the SEO & online marketing community panicked and began throwing around the term #Mobilegeddon.
Some people say this was inevitable when Google began rolling out mobile-friendly webmaster tools in October 2014. They were prepared. Their websites were already mobile compatible, so they had nothing to worry about.
Others panicked. Their websites weren’t mobile-friendly. How could they get them to comply with these new algorithm changes without breaking the bank?
Not only that, but Google rarely ever announces an algorithm change. This must mean that the impact will be significant. What if they couldn’t get it done in 2 months time? How would their websites fair in their rankings?
If you’re in the first group who was prepared, congratulations. You’ve got very little to worry about. If you were in the second group, (or you still are), there's still time to prepare yourself for what could have significant impact on your Google traffic.
Easily Test If Your Website is Mobile Friendly
The first step is to check your website to make sure it is mobile friendly. Test now using Google’s mobile-friendly test: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/.
The answer may surprise you, especially if you invested in a mobile-friendly theme that redirects to m.yoursite.com.
Google's Recommendations for Mobile-Friendly Websites
Google recommends responsive web design and have for some time. In March 2014, they published “Building Websites for the Multi-screen Consumer," a white paper to encourage website owners to start getting their sites in order. In the white paper, Google tells you the pros and cons of having a responsive design versus having a website with 3 different websites for 3 different screen sizes.
This is where the m.yoursite.com part comes in. If you bought a separate website that redirects to a mobile website, you probably just wasted a lot of money. No offense to anyone who was selling those websites, but a responsive web design is much, much cheaper than maintaining multiple websites on different sizes to cater for different devices.
What is a responsive web design? It’s a design that responds to the device you’re using to access the website. This means it automatically becomes a mobile website or a tablet website without having to redirect you to another url, like m.yoursite.com.
If you have an older site with Flash, then your website is not mobile-friendly. Flash has been replaced with HTML5, and it is much easier to run, and much less taxing on servers – and your users.
Site Speed and Search Engine Rankings
Your site load time affects your rankings.
In your Google Webmaster tools you can test how long it takes for your site to load on desktop and mobile devices. They emphasize speed. With this tool, a score of around 68 is normal.
Follow the recommendations as best you can, but mostly focus on your site’s speed.
You can fix your site speed with a mobile responsive web design. Most mobile responsive designs are minimalist and clean. Less coding means your content loads quicker. It also helps if you don’t have a lot of heavy images or ads.
On a side note: you can compress your images to help your website load faster. If you run Wordpress, there are several plugins that can do that for you.
Now is the time to get a responsive website
Ultimately, whether or not your website is responsive will now determine your Google rankings and thus your traffic. If your website is mobile-friendly, your rankings may increase, which means you’re going to get more visitors. If your website is not mobile-friendly, you’re almost certainly going to see a decrease in rankings.
What to do if you don't have a mobile-friendly website?
The quickest, easiest, cheapest way to do this is just to use mobile responsive themes. If you're using the Wordpress, this is easily done by using a responsive theme Thesis theme by DIYThemes.
If you're not using Wordpress, your best option is to hire a professional to make your website responsive.
Either way, your website needs to be responsive or it is unlikely to appear in Google's mobile search results come April 21.
Should you be worried about #Mobilegeddon?
In short: Yes. Over 40% of website traffic comes from mobile devices. By making your website mobile-friendly, you’re tapping into that traffic. As a result, you will likely receive more visitors in addition to better quality visitors: visitors that are more likely to purchase because of the website's mobile-friendliness such as larger text and easier to navigate.
Is this the end of days for websites that aren't mobile friendly? I'm going to say it isn't.. yet. But unless your site is mobile friendly, you'll have a hard time seeing significant organic mobile traffic from Google.
Is it worth the investment to make your website mobile friendly? Yes.