On April 21, two and a half weeks from today, Google will release a mobile search update that will be the biggest update since Panda and Penguin. This update will only impact mobile search results, but the impact will be enormous. The short version is that mobile friendliness will be considered a major ranking factor by Google, and sites that are not mobile friendly will likely have difficulty showing up on the first page for their chosen keywords. This move makes sense for Google when you consider the following statistics:
- 60% of internet traffic came from mobile devices as of July 8, 2014 (Small Business Trends).
- 65% of all internet searches start on a smartphone (Google Multi-screen Behavior Study).
- 78% of local mobile searches leads to an offline purchase (Search Engine Land).
In short, if your website is not optimized for mobile, not only are you missing out on an enormous business opportunity, now Google will make sure that a mobile search will result in other sites being shown before your unfriendly site. So what does this mean for your web traffic? How do you know if you are ready? If you are not ready, what can you do about it?
Mobile Search Traffic Impact
Review the data above: 65% of all internet searches begin on a smartphone. Note, this means that many of those searches (approximately 60% according to the same study) will move from the smartphone to the laptop. If your site is not mobile friendly, this is likely how you’ve managed to get away with not updating. Say, for instance, you find you are getting much mobile search traffic, but few of those searches lead to conversion. However, at the same time, you get much direct traffic on PC (people typing in your URL) and those tend to convert incredibly well. This should be taken as a sign that people are likely finding your website on their phone, and finishing business on their desktop.
Now, in this scenario you may have long thought that you don’t need to update for mobile: after all, it is not as if mobile is converting for you and people are willing to move to their PCs, so why bother? Well, disregarding those who use mobile exclusively for search (46% of users according to Search Engine Watch in an article published in 2013, so it is likely that number is higher), and aren’t switching over to their PC, you must consider the impact on those who do start the search on smartphone. Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario:
Approximately 1000 of your visits per month come from mobile search, and 1200 of your visits are on PC. Now, given the data from above, it is probable that half of your PC traffic started on mobile. Now, let’s say that mobile gets you a 2% conversion rate (so 20 out of 1000), but PC gets you a 15% conversion rate (180 out of 1200). Google mobile search update goes live, and your site is not mobile friendly. As a consequence, you get pushed to the 2nd, 3rd, or later pages in Google’s mobile search results. Suddenly those 1000 mobile visits per month become zero, and with them the PC visits that started from a mobile device. Assuming your conversion rates remain the same, this means you’ve lost the 20 conversions a month from mobile search, 90 conversions a month from PC, for a total of 110 out of 200 conversions. Your numbers may vary, but keep the percentages above in mind. Remember that marketing does not concern itself only with the conversion, it concerns itself with every part of the funnel from that first impression to the final sale. You can see here how neglecting the top of the funnel can cost you half your business.
This would be the part where most articles would say that we are not trying to scare you, but that would be a lie. We ARE trying to scare you, because we have seen it happen time and time again: an update is coming, a website needs to make an upgrade to not lose favor in Google rankings but doesn’t, and the owner’s business tanks as a consequence. We see it happen, and don’t like to see it happen, and if fear is needed to motivate action then fear is what we will deploy (and Machiavelli we shall read). Now more than ever, mobile friendliness is crucial. Without that critical piece, you may find yourself bumped off the hard-won first page of mobile search results. True: PC search results are not impacted, so whether becoming mobile friendly or not is worth it depends on what percentage of your traffic is from mobile search. However, if you are interested in getting mobile traffic, or if your business depends on it (again, remembering that many of your PC conversions started on mobile), then read on.
Am I Ready?
Now that you are probably better informed and maybe a little scared, your next question is: am I ready for the mobile search update? There are a number of very easy ways to check. The first place to go is direct to the source. Google has set up a mobile friendliness test to help webmasters determine if their sites are considered mobile optimized and if they would be penalized in a mobile search. You can find the test at this website: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/. If your website shows up as green through this search tool, then you do not have to worry about the mobile search update.
Just as a general precautionary measure though: we have encountered cases where the tool will clear a site that has display issues on mobile. As such, it is recommended that you take the time to review your site on a mobile device just to be certain you are ready for the update. This is a good practice in general due to the popularity of mobile search. Remember that the future of SEO is not just in appeasing search engines, it is about appealing to the end user as well.
Note for Rank Executives clients: we have already contacted those whose websites will be negatively impacted by this update. If we have not contacted you and told you your site needs to be optimized for mobile, then you are covered.
What if I am not Ready?
After running the test above, it may be revealed that your website is not mobile-friendly. This means you have two and a half weeks before the mobile search algorithm goes live. However, all is not lost even then: it takes time for Google to index all the websites on the internet, and fluctuation will occur for both friendly and unfriendly websites for several weeks after the rollout. That does not mean you can afford to delay, it just means that you have time to act.
Obviously, the first step is to find a developer. I will shamelessly plug our services in web development (every single website we make is mobile friendly), but I will not say we are the only service out there. Beyond technical firms, a number of freelance developers can be found on websites like Elance, and tech schools have been cropping up training web developers in languages like HTML + CSS, Java, PHP, and more.
While some articles will mention how you can do separate domain hosting for mobile sites, I will recommend a mobile responsive design. This saves the user time from redirects or a glitch that causes them to get caught on the wrong site. These other options are available, but mobile responsiveness loads up the full site and adapts to the size of the screen, allowing it to work for smartphones of various sizes, tablets, AND computers.
Web development projects can take several weeks to see fruition, but it varies according to your site and how it is coded, along with any CMS you may be using. After the project details have been hammered out, give your developer a chance to look at your website as it is now today. Once the developer has a chance to go over the code, he will be able to give you an estimate of how long it will take. There is nothing wrong with getting multiple estimates, but I recommend starting now. Remember: the mobile search update begins on April 21, and every day after that is a potential loss in revenue. Do not delay, don’t procrastinate, get started today. You can spend the weekend compiling a list of candidates and start making calls on Monday. Don’t let the mobile search update ruin your business.
If you want more information about the mobile search, and have an hour of time, you can watch this Q+A session Google held to address common concerns about the update.