Don't panic about Google's mobile changes

By: John McGarvey

Date: 20 April 2015

As you might have heard, tomorrow Google is making some changes to how it ranks websites. The headline is that mobile-friendliness is now an important ranking factor

That means when you search from a mobile device, Google will generally show mobile-friendly websites higher up the list.

Unusually, the search engine provided advance warning of the change. As a result, some website owners have spent the last few weeks panicking about the effect on their site traffic.

Now, we're not saying you don't need to worry. It is really important that your website works well on mobile devices and you shouldn't undertake any significant redesign without thinking about the mobile experience.

But at the same time, don't panic. Rushing through poorly-planned changes could do more harm than good by confusing visitors who are used to the status quo.

If you're not sure what to do about these changes, here are four questions to ask yourself.

1. Does your site get many mobile visitors?

The change only affects results when you search from mobile devices, like smart phones or tablets. If you get lots of mobile visitors, you'll be hit harder than if you only receive a few.

Check your web analytics to see what proportion of visitors arrive from mobile devices. Google Analytics lets you split out mobile users. Just choose Audience > Mobile > Overview.

If the proportion of mobile visitors is relatively low (say 10%) then this change isn't going to spell disaster. Conversely, if 40% or more of visitors come from mobile devices, it might be wise to get your skates on.

2. How does your site look on a smart phone?

Depending on how your website is built, you might be pleasantly surprised at how it works on mobile devices. Even sites that haven't been designed with mobile in mind can look ok.

Additionally, some template-based website builders have added mobile features in recent months. Simply updating your templates might be enough to improve the mobile experience.

Helpfully, Google provides a mobile-friendly test that reveals how mobile-friendly your website is. Enter your website address to see a breakdown of elements like font size, link proximity, page width and more.

Again, if the test says your site isn't mobile friendly this isn't a disaster. But that knowledge should help you prioritise work to make it mobile friendly.

3. How are your competitors doing?

The competitive landscape will influence how this change affects your website traffic. If none of your competitors have mobile-friendly websites then you'll all be penalised, so the upshot is not much will change.

Of course, your biggest competitor could be about to unveil an amazing website that adapts to different screen sizes beautifully. But if the market is behind as a whole then you don't need to worry quite so much.

4. How does your site currently rank on mobile?

Try searching for some of your target keywords from your smart phone.

Frankly, if your website is outside the top ten results then being demoted further isn't likely to have a vast effect on traffic levels.

You'll probably want to change that, of course. But you need to think seriously about your search strategy, rather than rushing to put together some half-baked mobile solution.

Don't panic, but do start thinking

As we said earlier, mobile devices form an increasing proportion of internet traffic. Even if you don't get many mobile users at the moment, that is likely to change.

But it's vital you think through how you're going to cater for these people. If you plan to move to a responsive design (which adapts to different screen sizes), it's important to make sure your content still makes sense for all your visitors.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.