By Sean and Martin Simons, Partners
You may have heard about the updates Google made to its search algorithm in April, often referred to by its greatly overblown nickname: MOBILEGEDDON. The key point about this update is the focus on responsive design. Google regularly updates the technology powering its search, always adapting to user trends, evolving best practices, and striving to deter exploitive “black hat” search engine optimization techniques. This latest iteration gives emphasis to websites optimized for mobile browsing, as the internet giant is acknowledging just how many people are searching the web on their smartphones and tablets. More information can be found at Google Webmaster Central.
Many less than reputable marketers may try to convince you that you will need to make your site responsive or your site will disappear from Google forever! As always, it’s best to go up against the ills of the internet armed with knowledge, logic, and common sense.
First and foremost, Google is not penalizing websites for not being responsive. The language of all the announcements so far is pretty straightforward. The new algorithm will put emphasis on sites that are more user-friendly for mobile devices, which means that if anything, a more responsive site will get a bit of a ranking boost. It’s like an extra-credit question on an exam; your score won’t go down if you get it wrong or skip it, but only will go up if you put in the effort to get it right.
Not having a responsive website, however, could still appear to have a negative impact. This is because as more sites are being built with mobile browsing in mind, they’re the ones that get the ranking boost. Even if the move to more responsive sites is partly built on hysteria, it is likely to gain momentum now. Without following the trend, your site may show a perceived drop in search engine ranking, because it’s being passed in the results by the adapted websites.
Adopting a responsive design is always worth the effort. A mobile friendly site has always indirectly been good for SEO. The more devices on which your site can be viewed, the greater your reach. The greater your reach, the higher your traffic. The higher your traffic, the better your search engine ranking, even if it’s incremental. If Google is also going to now look favourably upon your site for being mobile friendly, it’s like double-dipping for SEO.
As with any technique, make sure it’s done right! Building a site to be responsive needs to be treated like any redesign. Check the links, optimize any new or changed code, and if any URLs change, redirect them properly. In responsive design, you’re also going to have to verify if interactive elements, scripts, and multimedia remain functional across the varied devices. And don’t forget to test, test, test! If the conversion is done without attention to these details, then that can hurt your ranking.
There is certainly no need to panic; your exhaustive SEO efforts are not being heartlessly crushed by the latest changes to Google’s search algorithm. Your site is not going to drop off the face of the internet. There is still going to be a significant shift in how sites are ranked, and it is lining up more faithfully with how sites are being searched. You may want to contact your friendly web professional, if not for a new or updated web presence, then at least for some clarification. It does benefit you to adapt to the ever-changing web trends, but it benefits you the most to adapt wisely.