Today is the day. Ever since Google announced an algorithm update back in February, discussions on the Internet have reached fever pitch on the run up to today – Day 0 for the update. Google promised that the update would “have a significant impact in our search results.” It boils down to this: Google will start ranking websites differently according to mobile friendliness on mobile devices. There’s no expected change to the desktop search functionality – yet. Google is pushing the web design and development industry forward with emphasis on responsive design.
You may notice when doing a Google search that the tag “mobile-friendly” is prepended to the link description text giving a visual cue to the user that the website is optimized for mobile devices. From our understanding, sites without this tag are the ones that are at risk of having their search engine results page (SERP) rankings devalued based on Google’s criteria that it’s not mobile friendly.
Primary Problems With This Approach
Google is forcing the hand of web developers and DIY-ers everywhere to heed their warning lest you be punished by the almighty hands of Brin and Page. In my experience, a gerrymandered and hackneyed approach to responsive design produces a level of usability far worse than a standard “pinch-to-zoom” non-responsive site. Google doesn’t calculate the quality of the implementation, but uses a series of tests for horizontal scroll bars and relative spacing between links to quantify “mobile-friendliness”. This will result in a lot of “OMG I lost my traffic” responses with substellar responsive approaches giving us a less usable web.
I would rather see a market-based approach as opposed to a top-down, “do it or die” approach from Google. If I happen across any news website whatsoever and I have to pinch-to-zoom… I’ve left that site in 1 second flat. A clear signal will be sent to website administrators that they’re getting a lot of mobile traffic, high bounce rates, and low metrics for time on site – metrics significantly lower than their desktop counterparts. Their rational response to that data would be to produce a responsive site.
There are times I prefer the full version of a website. The worst part about a bad responsive site is hunting around for that all elusive “full version” link somewhere in the footer – if it exists at all.
The bottom line is that companies and web developers everywhere should be producing responsive sites anyway. The data is clear. 1 in every 3 Internet visits originates from a mobile device. Google will likely usher the responsive revolution along with this algorithm update. But in its approach, it may be introducing bad user experience as an unintended consequence.
Is Your Site Ready?
Google does give us a handy tool to be able to test a website for mobile-friendliness. Take a peek to see if you’re in the clear. If not, we know who to call.