A guest post by Michael Bird.
On 21 April, 2015, Google rolled out its latest algorithm update, changing how we look at mobile searches and instilling responsive website design as the top method of design. Fondly referred to as “mobilegeddon,” this update impacted the way mobile searches are completed and set a new standard in website design.
Now it’s been over a month since this update went through. Let’s take a look at how Google’s newest update impacted search engine optimization (SEO) and what digital marketers can do to reclaim their position at the top of Google’s mobile search results.
Who was affected?
In previous years, Google’s update affected all websites across devices – laptops, desktops and mobile devices – but this update only affected smartphones were affected. According to a recent Google company blog, desktop searches are officially outdated. The blog post confirmed that more searches take place on a mobile device than on a desktop in 10 countries across the world, including the U.S. and Japan.
All websites were impacted, meaning any website that wishes to be found via mobile search would have to comply with Google’s new standards if they wanted to be found in search results. Unlike other updates, Google announced the changes back in February 2015 and launched a mobile-friendly test site where web designers could test their sites to ensure that they were responsive.
Digital Summit reported in early 2014 that Google owns roughly two-thirds of the Australian search engine market (a statistic common to the U.S. as well, according to CNN Money) so with that kind of visibility, any website competing for the top spot in search engine results needed to get their heads in the game.
Because the top spot usually garners 20-30 percent of all clicks, says SEO director of Greenlight Adam Bunn, there has historically been a race to get to the top of these search engine results. The second and third places usually get about 5-10 percent of all clicks, and anything farther down can expect maybe one percent of searchers to click on them.
What did Google’s update actually do?
We know that smartphones were the only ones impacted by these algorithm changes. Now let’s look at how they were changed.
Google’s update made responsive website design the design of choice for mobile websites. In the past, there have been two ways to design a website. Either designers could make multiple versions of the same website for different devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone) and screen sizes or they could create a responsive website design that would respond accordingly to anyone who was searching on any device.
The first method involved creating multiple websites, which then forced Google to catalog each one as if it were a new website. This created a lot of extra work for Google. Responsive websites only needed to be cataloged once, and they would automatically adjust to any screen size searchers were using.
Naturally, this method made things easier for Google so when it came time to revamp their mobile searches, Google decides to favor those websites that had created responsive designs and push them up higher in search results. As we mentioned earlier, the top three spots get the most clicks from users so websites that were popular but not responsively designed had a lot to lose from this update.
Google’s changes were not expected to occur overnight. The company planned to roll out its changes gradually over the next few weeks after its initial launch on 21 April, so websites might only now be noticing a difference.
Other factors will also play a role in mobile SEO, and there is a slight chance that non-responsive websites could still be pushed to the top of search results. Like any of these other factors, responsive web design is just one of them. Websites excelling at other aspects of SEO might not find themselves too heavily impacted. Nonetheless, if your company isn’t as well known as let’s say McDonald’s, then it’s probably safer just to switch to responsive design.
What to do now?
The good news about this update is that websites can change their designs at any point. While updating to a responsive design before the algorithm update might have been preferable, it was not necessary. If your website is still not responsive, all you have to do is redesign in, and you’ll be back in the SEO game on Google mobile searches.
Need some help with your responsive design? Here are a few tips:
- If you don’t already have a designer, hire one that has previously designed responsive sites. While designing these sites is far from impossible, it is a long process and it takes careful attention to be able to design a responsive site well. Don’t cut corners with your design.
- If you’re designing the site yourself, start with a mobile design and work your way up to a desktop design. A mobile site will definitely work for a desktop, but the other way around isn’t always true.
- Plan your navigation carefully. If you only have two or three menus, it’s okay to place them at the top, but if you have more, put them down the side of the screen.
- Make sure the buttons are big enough for a finger. They shouldn’t be too close together either, or people will end up pushing the wrong buttons.
- When it comes to images, avoid using any PNG. These image files can inflate between 5-10 times, making your site difficult to load. Your users will simply click back before the site can load.
- Keep the amount of text on your site to a minimum. This will also slow down loading times. Use brief calls-to-action.
- Be minimalist in your approach to responsive website design. If you don’t need the image or text, don’t put it on the site. Extra images and text will only slow down your loading time so keep the site looking clean.
Don’t forget that this change only impacted mobile searches. Desktop and laptop searches remained the same so you should still be producing high-quality content and posting regularly to keep your site high in search results.
Have you seen your mobile rankings change because of Google’s most recent update? We want to hear your experiences!
About Mike Bird:
Mike Bird is a co-founder of digital marketing agency, Social Garden. Social Garden specializes in data-driven lead generation & marketing automation to grow companies’ revenue in the finance, property and education verticals in Australia. Mike is an influencer in the social media marketing & Facebook advertising space and contributes to Social Media Examiner, Social Media Today, Yahoo! Business Advisor and most importantly, the Social Garden blog.