Mobile-Friendly Google – A Rare Opportunity

Just a few short weeks ago, Google’s mobile-friendly hammer came down on websites across the country. You may or may not have heard, but Google announced that they would start to penalize websites that were not mobile-friendly. But why is this such a big deal, and why now?

Why Mobile is Important to Google

As I’ve written about previously, Google wants to create the best possible and relevant experience for its users. When people use Google search, not only is it important for them to find relevant information, but it should also be in a form that is accessible on the device they’re using. Because of this, Google is cracking down on sites that are not mobile. The last thing they want is to direct a mobile user to a site that is not mobile-responsive. This is because the likelihood of that person staying is drastically less if the site is not mobile-friendly. Known as the bounce rate, if a lot of your traffic ends up leaving quickly, this is seen as a sign that your site is either no relevant or not usable, harming your site SEO stats.

Check your site’s mobile friendliness

Google isn’t very well-known for being forthcoming about their SEO metrics. That’s the silver lining in all of this–their public announcement of these changes are an opportunity to get a guaranteed boost in your SEO. These opportunities don’t come along very often, so it’s important that you move quickly on this to get an edge over your competitors that fail to seize the moment. But where should one start?

The first thing you should do is head over to Google’s handy mobile-friendly tool. Simply type in your domain name and hit ‘Analyze’. After just a few moments, you’ll get a message regarding whether or not your site is being recognized as mobile-friendly or not. If not, you’ll also be given the specifics on what’s wrong, in addition to some great resources on fixing the issues.

How to make your site mobile-friendly

The cleanest and most future-proof solution is always responsive design (at least until the future where we have brain chips that embed it all directly into our brain).  Responsive design is built to accommodate all devices at every screen width. The time that it takes to build a responsive site is well worth it, since it is a good way of “future-proofing” your site in this manner. One drawback of a responsive redesign, however, is that the development cycle can take as long as building a brand new site. In many cases, such as those where a site is not using a CMS platform, a responsive redesign is really the only choice. In these cases, we like to use tools like Twitter Bootstrap, a responsive CSS and Javascript framework that will help to scale your site redesign as fast as possible.

If you’re using a CMS platform like WordPress or Drupal, there are some great plugins and themes that will allow you to satisfy Google’s changes. In some cases, the setup can be accomplished in just a few hours, depending on your design criteria for the mobile site. One WordPress plugin we’d highly recommend (as does Google) is WPTouch. Both the free version and pro version offer a variety of themes that work great out of the box. One thing to keep in mind is that there will be some limited debugging with the site’s robots.txt and .htaccess files to make sure that the Googlebot is able to access the mobile version of your site. If you’re using Drupal, there’s a great module called Mobilizer that can assist you in creating a mobile version of your site without upgrading to a responsive theme.

Time is of the Essence

Google’s recent changes are just that–recent. This means that you still have a great opportunity to improve your SEO (almost) immediately. A report last year noted that 91% of small- and medium-size business websites were not mobile-friendly. With the pace of the internet, that figure has surely gone down somewhat, but we can be certain that the majority of these sites remain non-mobile-optimized. These sites are both yours and your competitors. Now, with Google’s recent announcement (and others to surely follow), it’s time for you to get the leg up and build your future, today.