Beginning Tomorrow, Google Starts Rewarding Mobile-Friendly Websites

Sometime on April 21 your website, the one you worked so hard to get on Google’s first search page, may disappear down the rabbit hole, banished to page 2, 3 or worse.

Tomorrow is when Google implements a new ranking system that rewards sites that are mobile-friendly by elevating them in its search results. The flip side of that is the bad news for any website that isn’t mobile-enabled — it will fall in the rankings.

Exactly how bad will it be? Until Google’s new ranking algorithm is switched on, we won’t know for sure, but the search engine experts are calling it “Mobilegeddon” and “Mobilepocalypse.” 

Only half of Fortune 500 are mobile-enhabled

If that seems like so much hype, consider that last year, after Google rolled-out update 4.0 to its so-called Panda ranking component, eBay lost an estimated 80 percent of its top search results. One Wall Street analyst calculated the cost at 5 percentage points of growth to the company.

By one count, barely half the Fortune 500 are mobile-enabled. Their recruiting efforts, though may catch a break. Many of them are on platforms that make the career websites mobile friendly. SMBs, on the other hand, are in the single digits on mobile-friendliness.

This is an especially big problem for search agencies and staffing firms who depend on being found by both candidates and clients. Even if your job site is powered by a vendor and mobile friendly, what about the rest of the site?

(You can find out by using Google’s own Mobile-Friendly Test. You can also test your competitor’s mobile friendliness.)

Before you panic, know that the new algorithm applies only to searches done on mobile devices; searches on a desktop won’t be affected. At least not yet. Searchers who use Bing, Yahoo, or some other search engine will still see your site on whatever page it now appears. Don’t take too much comfort in that since Google has two-thirds of the U.S. search traffic.

Many potential clients who go searching for an agency most likely are doing it from work and using a desktop. If they use a tablet or smartphone, and you aren’t mobile-ready, you may not be found. Your competitors who do have a mobile site, they’ll get priority.

50% plus of job searches are mobile

However, here is a reason to, if not panic, then worry — at least half of all job searches are done on a mobile device. And that is the most conservative of the various estimates.

If your job site isn’t mobile friendly, then for half your possible candidates, jobs now appearing on Google’s first page, may wind up so far down that only the most desperate job seeker will find them.

Just what do we – and that includes Google — mean by “mobile friendly.” Those are sites designed specifically to be comfortably viewed on a small screen. That means the user doesn’t have to scroll left and right, doesn’t have to enlarge sections to make them readable, the site is easy to navigate (buttons and links are large enough), and pages aren’t so heavy it takes forever to load even at 4G speeds.

Responsive design

There are a three ways of making a site mobile friendly, though responsive design is the most popular and is even favored by Google. A responsive design site is one that can be viewed on any device comfortably. Despite some shortcomings, the advantage is that you build it once and it automatically adjusts to any device. An Akamai study of the top 10,000 sites by traffic (as counted by Alexa) found 18.7 percent of them were responsive design sites,

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Another advantage: responsive design is Google’s preference.

On one level, the reasons for the change in the ranking algorithm are plain. More users are accessing the web on mobile devices than are using desktops. That happened a year ago, and the mobile usage is still growing. The other reasons have more to do with ad serving and Google’s revenue from the small screen vs. desktops.

Impact on web traffic

Regardless, when Tuesday comes, the effect on mobile organic search traffic – traffic coming from mobile searches on Google – are predicted to decline for sites that are not mobile-friendly. How much depends on such factors as:

  • The keywords mobile searchers use. The more generic the search terms, the greater the potential impact to you.
  • The competition from other, relevant, but mobile-friendly sites.
  • Your current traffic from mobile searches. This is something you can easily get from your site analytics.

If your site is not mobile-friendly now, there are design firms and tools to quickly convert a static site to one that is responsive. An overnight fix is far from a perfect solution; the end result may be, at best, passable. Google also has a quick guide.

About the Author

John Zappe is contributing editor of ERE.net, and the former editor of the now closed Fordyce Letter. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. 

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him by clicking here.