As much as Apple has guided the entire tech industry by its advocacy or abandonment of various software and hardware technologies over the years, Google envisions a mobile future where every website on the planet works equally well on a cellphone, tablet or desktop.
On Thursday, via the Webmaster Central blog, Google drew an inevitable line in the sand for mobile-friendly adoption, and it is likely to have as much of an impact on organic search results as any of the major algorithm updates over the past five years, including the Penguin and Panda updates.
Here’s the money quote:
“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.”
In a 2014 survey on Internet Trends, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers revealed that mobile now accounts for 25 percent of all Web usage, up from 14 percent a year ago. Many website owners have seen cellphone-plus-tablet usage surge to as much as 50 percent of all traffic in 2015.
Why is this April 21 algorithm change seismic? What Google is telling us is that mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive websites will be rewarded with better positioning in Google’s mobile search engine results, and thus more traffic from a rapidly expanding user base. Conversely, websites that are not mobile friendly will see less mobile organic traffic, receive a smaller piece of the expanding mobile pie, and will be forced to rely on a shrinking desktop-based audience.
Website owners don’t have an option, they have a missive: Go mobile.
For websites that are not currently mobile-friendly but are on a platform that has good options (WordPress, Squarespace, Shopify and BigCommerce, for example), the changeover may be relatively painless and inexpensive. For websites that are old (2011 or earlier) or on a legacy system, now is the time to commit to the site rebuild that has been pushed down the priority list for months or years.
While the catalyst for change is the ability to compete for mobile organic traffic, there are numerous benefits to re-theming a website for a mobile audience, including a better user experience, longer time on site and higher conversion rates. Businesses may be pleasantly surprised to find that the cost of migration is recouped by a mobile audience that engages more, inquires more and buys more.