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Google Says “Go Mobile or Else”

Google is a hydra-like monster of a company that believes it’s corporate responsibility is to protect the Golden Fleece just inside the gates of the Internet. Only true Googlers, and the pure of heart, can earn passage into its pantheon of the digital elite. If you spend any time on the web, social media or mobile phones, it’s impossible to avoid being touched by Google’s influence in one way or another. On April 21, 2015 that impact will be felt by many website owners and developers who don’t believe that Smartphones are a good way to interact with customers and prospective customers, or who don’t want to invest the money in putting a mobile friendly face on their websites. Sadly, Google has unilaterally decided to make you pay dearly for having a point of view that differs from what they believe is in the best interests of all web users worldwide.

Google is about to come down very hard on small and medium businesses (SMBs) with its latest dictum sent out from the GooglePlex’s Inner Geekdom in Silicon Valley. I’ll provide you first with the short words of wisdom from Google, and then put all of this into some context later in this post.

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.

Source: Official Google Webmaster Central blog post, February 26, 2015
The full blog article was released to all webmasters through Google Webmaster Tools accounts just a few weeks ago. It’s worthwhile reading if only to understand what may happen to website owners and developers who don’t heed the words “…will have a significant impact in our search results.”

What Can Google Really Do to Me?

According to Google, your website must be “mobile friendly” by April 21. As of that date, Google’s search algorithm ranking signals will be modified to significantly penalize websites’ positions on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) if the sites have not been modified. Regardless of all the recent work you may have done on your site through Search Engine Optimization, Pay per Click advertising to help drive website traffic, adding high quality content and social media outreach to boost website user engagement, it will be for naught if you have not optimized your website to render correctly on smaller screen sizes.

Google Letter Re Mobile Useability 381x395Most people dread receiving a subpoena, a jury summons or a tax audit letter from the IRS. You get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, and perhaps even get a little nervous. Those of us who do digital media for a living have our own version of this: a warning email from Google about a website for which you are responsible. The email letter at the right (click the image for a larger view) is an example of what Google is sending out to non-compliant websites. Google is merely giving this particular recipient a poke, a heads up if you will, that something needs to be done about abcxyz.com’s website. I’ve redacted the information here to protect the identity of this website owner. The first reaction website owners may have is to trash the email, lose it or simply ignore it. When Google has total control over how your website will appear on the search engine results pages, none of these reactions will be good for your business.

How bad will it be? Pretty bad. The rule of thumb is that if you aren’t on the first couple of search engine results pages for your keywords or brand name, users won’t work very hard beyond that to find you. Result? Lost customers and certainly prospects who will turn to a company with a more mobile friendly website they CAN find in Google Search. Your search ranking may fall to page 10, page 100 or page 1,000. Right now, those of us who have to follow Google’s many moves (which are usually done in secret) just don’t know how far a non-mobile friendly website will fall. But, from experience, it will be far less expensive for your business to just quickly have your web developer launch a mobile optimized version of your website so you can pass Google’s “Mobile Friendly” test. You can try out that test here by entering your website’s domain name. Google will provide you with results and some optional things you can do to remove the “unfriendly” label.

But, I Think My Website Looks Fine on a Smartphone

 

Keep in mind there are a couple things that can prevent your site from showing up as mobile friendly.

  • Some companies have older websites that have never used the more “responsive” website design techniques that Communication Links adopted for almost all new website development about 18 months ago. So, today, we basically build a website once and it renders nicely on desktop, tablet and Smartphone platforms with nothing more than a few tweaks in the number of pages and navigation menu structure. For some older desktop-optimized websites that we built before responsive web design, we have built mobile sites on dedicated mobile-only platforms to redirect traffic away from the desktop/tablet version to the mobile version based on the users’ detected screen sizes. Most of our clients are using one of these two options depending on the age of their websites.
  • Even if you have a mobile optimized website, Google can still ding you in the ratings if your web developer has accidentally prevented some technical elements (CSS, Java script) from being crawled by the search engines. So, even though the website may look great on a Smartphone, blocking the search engine spiders will send a signal back to Google that your site is not mobile friendly. Those fixes are relatively easy, and you should check in with your web developer to make sure those web crawler blocks are removed very soon.

 

What’s This Really All About?

Some would argue that this is about Google pumping up its revenue since, after all, it produces one of the leading operating systems for Smartphones (Android), it builds one of the leading web browsers used on Smartphones (Chrome), and millions of users watch YouTube Videos on Smartphones, use Google Search on Smartphones and even book airline, hotel and restaurant reservations on a Smartphone. They also book golf tee times on their Smartphones either using your tee time booking app, or using Google Search to find your website so they can Click-to-Call on their Smartphones. But, Google is only part of the Smartphone ecosystem that includes Apple, Netflix, HBO and PGATOUR.com, as well as any one of the hundreds of golf courses here in Arizona that hope to reach tee time bookers or prospective Members for their private golf clubs and real estate communities.

Desktop-vs.-Mobile-300x213In actual fact, for the 70 or so websites that we have built and manage for our clients, our review of Google Analytics shows that almost 50% of all website traffic is now coming from mobile platforms (most of them iPhones and iPads!). In other industry segments we’ve reviewed, those figures approach 60% for mobile web access vs. 40% for the desktop. The iPhone 6 and 6+ have one-upped Samsung’s own “phablet” in size, and all website owners and developers need to be very cognizant of site visitors who are now using mobile phones for almost all of their digital activities because these screen sizes are replacing tablets and even notebook computers.

Google’s motivations may not be totally altruistic and they are certainly not gentle in doling out their penalties. But, our belief is that the bigger user trend can’t be ignored. Smartphones are here and they are incredibly powerful tools that can benefit the golf industry.

We as developers don’t always like Google’s medicine. But, if it helps our clients perform better on the web and build a stronger business, we’d be hard-pressed to provide counsel that says you can ignore the mobile-friendly caution from Google.

If you have any questions about how your website renders on Smartphones, please give us a call at 480-348-7540, or you can reach me at JMartin@commlinks.com.

This Featured Post first appeared in Jim’s Digital Lab in March, 2015 on my company’s website at Communication Links, a Marketing, Public Relations and Digital Media agency based in Scottsdale, AZ.