As a local business, you might have heard through the grapevine that Google is up to something. The whispers from your marketing company, web developer, or designer’s next door neighbors are getting louder and louder. You have heard the prophecies of impending doom for those who do not adapt their websites to the ever-growing number of mobile devices in the world. Before you open the door to the first apocalypse salesman screaming that he has the solutions you need, it would be wise to get to know the terms and definitions of this “mobilegeddon” from Google (which by the way, is happening on April 21, 2015).
So before someone tells you that your website will fall victim to this new algorithm and join the army of walking dead sites, it’s a good idea to take a step back and educate yourself.
What Is Mobilegeddon!?!!?
As this Google Webmaster blog post stated:
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.
As most will point out, yes, this is a significant algorithm change as Google is now calculating how your site renders and performs on a mobile device as a ranking signal. What is also good to note is that in this quote, Google says that the ranking signal will affect mobile searches and makes no mention of this touching your desktop site. So before you put down your business’ hard earned money to get everything redesigned, evaluate how much traffic you are getting from mobile as is. You should also determine if your business is the type that consumers will use mobile phones to find. If you decide that your business would benefit from redesigning or updating your site for mobile devices, then your next step is to choose a method of complying with Google’s definition of “mobile friendly.”
Simply put, mobile friendly is a site that renders correctly on a smartphone, such as a Samsung S5 or iPhone 6. Even on the smaller screens of mobile devices, a mobile friendly site should still be easy to read and navigate.
Reddit is a very popular website, but it doesn’t render on a mobile web browser in a way that Google would regard as “friendly.” As you can see, the design renders exactly the same as it would on a desktop. Since the content, links, etc. are all hard to navigate and read, this site would be deemed as a bad experience and fall victim to the new ranking signals that Google intends to employ on mobile search results.
This website specifically renders correctly for the user’s device. The interface offers mobile users the ability to both read the content and navigate around the site easily. Under the new Google guidelines, this would be considered “mobile friendly.”
All Mobile Sites Are the Same, Right??!?!?
They all are the same in that they will render, in one way or another, on mobile devices. But just how the site gets to its mobile form can vary, depending on the programming method used. In other words, there are a lot of ways to get your site to render on a mobile phone.
Responsive Web Design (RWD)
Responsive web design is probably the most popular method that people are using right now. It is easily accomplished as most of the newest WordPress themes already employ it. With WordPress being one of the most popular CMS systems, your site is more than likely built on it (assuming your site has been updated in the last 5 years).
Responsive is mainly a visual implementation of mobile friendly, as it dynamically resizes your desktop website to “fit” within the boundaries of a device’s screen. One easy way to see a responsive web design site at work is to just resize your browser window. As you increase or decrease the window’s size, the website shifts, changing font sizes and picture sizes to better fit.
The biggest advantage of this method is that it can be implemented relatively quickly. It also does not create any new pages or content, so you would only have one website in terms of maintenance and updates. For most small businesses, this method will work wonderfully, and shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to develop.
Adaptive Web Design (AWD)
While AWD is sometimes used interchangeably with responsive web design, there are differences between the two. Adaptive is usually designed in steps, whereas responsive is a fluid resizing of the site based on visible area. Adaptive is done by sizes usually broken down as Desktop, Tablet, and Mobile. With just design and implementation, AWD is more in depth and takes longer to build. What sets AWD apart from RWD is the fact that it’s not fluid, which means you can change elements on a page based on the device being used to view it. Content can be taken out or added in as it steps through the various sizes. This design gives the most control over how you want your website to look as people scale down or up with their devices. A lot of bigger enterprise sites employ this method for its ability to be customized. While this might be overkill for some small businesses, it can be highly useful for those that have different offerings based on where the user is coming from.
So My Site Won’t Become a Zombie Site??!!?
Despite what people may try and sell you, with a little knowledge and a little preparation your site should be fine when Google switches on its Mobilegeddon algorithm. We just don’t want you to run out and buy the first “mobile solution” that someone might pitch to you. After all, Google’s algorithm is not really meant to be apocalyptic, but just another step along the progression of the web. That progression has been and will continue to go the route of mobility and usability.