Google Gives Preference to Responsive Design



by Kelly Lucas, client marketing director

Is your website responsive? If not, come April 21st, 2015, Google will have something to say about that. As you’re probably already aware, optimizing your sites for mobile devices, like smart phones and tablets, is a good way to stay relevant, as more and more people are searching for and finding information while on the go. Having a responsive site (that is, a site that recognizes the device accessing it and adjusts its view accordingly) is rapidly moving out of the realm of best practices and into the area of basic necessity. On April 21st, Google will be placing more emphasis on boosting the search rankings of websites that are optimized for a good mobile viewing experience versus those that aren’t.

Google’s preference for mobile-friendly sites isn’t anything new. The world’s largest and most popular search engine has been giving these types of sites search result labels and ranking boosts since last fall. April 21st, however, is the date on which the company will officially implement specialized algorithm changes that can make a big difference in search results and possibly in the site traffic your business receives. Google’s Webmaster Central blog reports:

“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.”

What does this mean for you? It means that if your site is already responsive, you don’t need to do anything. However, if your site isn’t responsive, does it mean you’ll get penalized? Not exactly. What it means is that, all other things being equal, if your competition has a responsive site and you don’t, they will be placed higher in search rankings than you. It’s not that you are punished, it’s that they are rewarded and you, well, aren’t.

“But Kelly,” you ask, “I have a mobile site for my firm, so I’m set, right?” The answer is “No.” A mobile site is technically a separate site from your primary firm website. Google isn’t looking for those. It’s looking for the primary websites that automatically adjust to accommodate different devices. So while it’s good that you were cognizant of other devices when you created a separate mobile site, that unfortunately does not help you with the changes taking place April 21st.

Is your firm’s website properly optimized for the many different kinds of devices that potential clients use today? If not, we encourage you to take steps promptly. The good thing about the April 21st deadline is that it’s not necessarily a drop-dead date. If your site isn’t updated to be responsive by this date, it’s not as though Google will ignore you forever after. That date is just when they are rolling out the algorithm, so if you’re responsive on that date, then great, you’re ahead of the game. But if you can’t make the deadline, don’t fret too much. You can still make the changes as soon as you are able, though we recommend you do it as quickly as possible so that your competition doesn’t get a leg up on you.

If you’re curious how much of a threat this might be to your firm, you’ll need to review two things:

•  How much of your traffic comes through mobile devices?

•  Is your site already properly optimized?

To answer the first question, hop on over to your Google Analytics reporting page and click on Audience in the left-hand column, then Mobile and finally Overview. There you’ll see a breakdown of users by device category: Desktop, Mobile and Tablet. (This will give you some great insight not just for the sake of optimization, but that can also help you in your overall marketing strategy.)

For the second question, if your firm’s website is only a year or so old, it may already be designed to be responsive. The recent trend among developers has been to make websites automatically responsive. One way to determine if your site is good to go is to contact the people who developed it and point blank ask them; they’ll be able to tell you very quickly. Another way is to use Google’s helpful Mobile-Friendly tester. If you want to improve things yourself, you can explore some of the guides and webmaster tools Google offers to help you deal with the situation.

Don’t be intimidated by the impending change but do try to be educated and prepared. Mobile internet devices have become an integral part of global communication, and professional services firms along with the rest of the business community need to adapt or you might get left in the dust, i.e. page four of Google search rankings.

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