Google is Going Mobile-Happy
If you’re in the industry, you’ve seen this coming for a while, but last week Google made it official and announced some changes to the way their algorithms rank mobile-friendly content, giving greater weight to those sites with greater mobile-ease.
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 should this mean to you? Or to everyone else, for that matter? Well, it means if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, you should think about making some changes. And if you’ve been thinking about making some changes, now is a good time to do it. That may mean coming up with a new, mobile-specific site that caters to what on-the-go-users want, or it could mean building a new “Responsive” site that changes based on the screen-size of the device on which it is being viewed. Either way, this is a good time to get ahead of the SEO curve.
This website is an example of the latter, “Responsive” design. Within the code, the website detects the screen size of the device displaying it (including portrait vs. landscape mode), and adjusts the content accordingly. If you’re on a desktop and want to test, this, check it out by making the window of your browser smaller and larger (usually done by clicking and dragging the bottom right corner of the window).
Another Plus for WordPress
Due to the flexibility of the platform, WordPress users have a bit of an advantage in adapting to these changes. With the plethora of responsive themes and plugins available, WordPress users can often find a new look they love and have their updated mobile-friendly site up in in much less time and for minimal cost. The standard WordPress theme repository has 950 free themes available with the tag “responsive” (find them here), or you can do a Google search to find even more that may either be free or inexpensive (frequently $50 or less).
If you’re thinking about making a change like this, however, there are a few potential concerns to be aware of. The first is that responsive themes are often more complicated on the administrative side than non-responsive themes. Because there are additional factors that need to be accounted for when adjusting for the viewer’s screen-size, there are frequently more settings that need to be configured. If the theme or plugin developer has done their job, figuring these out shouldn’t be too difficult, but it is something to be aware of going in.
Also, you will likely see plugins that promise to transform your site into a mobile version as needed without requiring any changes to the current setup. We recommend against these. While they may appear to be a simple and easy solution, in our (and our clients’) experience, there are several drawbacks: 1) these plugins can add code to your site that increases page-load time, or adds errors; 2) far too often these plugins alter the design of your site to such a degree that it can become frustrating for your users; and 3) their administrative sides are frequently confusing and time-consuming. The best solution is one in which site-responsiveness is central to the design, not an afterthought.
If you want to see how your website stacks up against Google’s recommendations, you can check out their Mobile-Friendly Test.