Since nothing is worth talking about unless it’s tantamount to the end of humankind, “Mobilegeddon” is now upon us. If you’ve somehow missed the panic that tore through the Internet this week like Godzilla through Tokyo, the world’s most popular search engine will now factor mobile friendliness into its algorithm for smartphone searches, damning the search rankings of sites still living in a desktop-focused world to new depths.
There may be plenty of hyperbole surrounding Google’s algorithm change, but legitimate concern on behalf of content marketers is not unfounded. Getting knocked down in Google’s search rank costs real businesses real money. According to a 2014 Advanced Web Ranking study, 71.33 percent of searches lead to an organic click for sites on Google’s first page of search results. That’s only true for 5.59 percent of searches on the second and third results pages. What’s more, the first five results on a search page account for an astounding 67.60 precent of all clicks.
Here are six things you should know about Mobilegeddon.
1. You need to put Mobilegeddon in perspective
If Mobilegeddon has whipped you into an incapacitating panic attack, calm down. Despite such panic-stricken headlines as “Google is making a giant change this week that could crush millions of small businesses” and those freaking out about the unprecedented scope of the change, Re/code predicts Google’s “latest SEO tweak is not likely to reverberate as much as earlier ones.” That’s because Google has given plenty of advance warning on the change, as well as providing tools to help site owners evaluate and improve its mobile-friendliness.
Google is even downplaying the consequences of the algorithm change. “While the mobile-friendly change is important, we still use a variety of signals to rank search results,” a Google spokesperson told Re/code. High-quality content, for example, could boost a site’s rankings considerably even as mobile kinks are being worked out.
And if you are behind on mobile-optimizing your site, you won’t be punished permanently. “Unlike previous algorithm tweaks,” reports CNN Money, “websites can upgrade their ‘mobile-friendliness’ at any time to appear higher in Google’s search results.”
2. But you still need to act
Yes, you. We see you there, eagerly raising your hand in the back of the class, clamoring to point out that you’ve read that Mobilegeddon only affects mobile searches, and you think your traffic doesn’t come from mobile. If that’s true, it could be because your website looks terrible on mobile devices, but it’s most likely just flat-out false. According to CNN Money, mobile searches make up about half of all Google queries, and that number is rising. A Flurry analysis found that time spent on mobile grew in the U.S. by 9.3 percent over just nine months in 2014. Even if you’re not seeing your traffic come from mobile devices now, there’s a good chance you will in the near future.
3. And rely on Google’s evaluation of your site
You may think your site looks fine and dandy on mobile. You may be wrong, according to Google. And now, Google is the judge and jury of mobile friendliness. You need to meet its expectations, not your own (or anyone else’s.)
The Internet is full of marketers offering to evaluate the mobile-friendliness of your site, but but guess what? So is Google—for free. Google’s Mobile Friendly Test not only tells you how friendly any website is, it also explains why (“text too small to read,” “links too close together,” etc.) and how to improve. If you still can’t figure out how to get your “Page appears not mobile-friendly” result to upgrade into an “Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly,” feel free to hunt down some marketing help. But still use Google’s tool as the litmus test.
4. But don’t overcomplicate your fix
According to Forrester Research, 38 percent of sites for companies that have 1,000 or more employees—those one might assume have pretty decent tech budgets—don’t meet Google’s criteria for mobile-friendliness. Comparatively, for a small company funneling all of its resources into creating great content, the prospect of optimizing a content hub for mobile might sound daunting, but the technology is out there to make it less complicated.
Marketing firm Econsultancy recommends a simple responsive design on your site that “will [load] faster and allow your users to find, share, and link to your content more easily. It also means Google’s bots will be able to crawl and index your site’s content faster and more efficiently.”
Another option is an adaptive web design approach, which automatically changes the HTML of a website on mobile, but the user-agent detection can result in errors. When it comes to mobile, simpler is better.
5. You need to optimize your content for mobile, too
While chasing Google’s standards for a mobile-friendly site, don’t forget about your brand’s standards. Econsultancy recommends the following tips to reach your content goals as you become more mobile-friendly:
- Short, entertaining headlines with easily readable text are key. Also ensure links are far enough apart so fingers don’t bump the wrong one.
- Make sure your content’s structure and layout doesn’t require readers to scroll down, down, down to get to the majority of your content. Front load your important content at the top.
- Place your call to action within your content. Mobile readers shouldn’t have to thumb all the way to the end of the page.
6. You did this to yourself
Yes: If your website isn’t yet legitimately mobile-friendly, Mobilegeddon could make your search ranking plummet. Did you think this day wasn’t going to come? Mobilegeddon isn’t the canary in the coal mine of consumer mobile behavior; it’s the massive rush of gas killing off the miners who ignored the canaries in the first place. CNN Money explains that Mobilegeddon is an “obvious tweak” to Google’s search algorithm. Its mobile-friendly test has been around since February, but for whatever reason, the public panic only started this week.
The bottom line is that consumers already were turning to their mobile devices for online content. If the mob-branded “Mobilegeddon” is what it takes to get enterprise attention, companies really have no one else to blame but themselves. But who needs to assign blame anyway? For giving them the extra push to go where the market is headed anyway—toward mobile—this SEO change could have content marketers thanking Google in the end.