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Google to Businesses: You Have Until April 21st to Get Mobile Friendly

Attention all business owners with non-mobile-friendly websites: courtesy of Google, you now have another reason to dread mid-April this year. On April 21st, Google will officially update its search algorithm to consider mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor in Google search results.

What I find most interesting about the announcement is the particularly muscular language Google uses in its webmaster blog to describe the change. Like any self-respecting Fed Chairman when speaking on monetary policy, Google tends to prefer opaque language when announcing the potential impact of its algorithm changes. Not this time:

“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. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.” {The bolded segment is my own}

Dang…

Some Mobile-Friendly Advice

The blog goes on to offer developers and webmasters some guidance on preparing for the upcoming changes, including how to conduct a mobile-friendly test or examine mobile usability issues by using the Mobile Usability Report in Google's Webmaster Tools.

It should be noted that Google telegraphed this move to mobile-friendly rankings several months ago, when in November of last year the company announced it would start including a “mobile-friendly label” to its mobile search results.

google-mobile-friendly-search-resultImage courtesy of Google

In a broader sense, I believe these changes were inevitable given the speed and degree of the consumer shift to mobile in recent years. It’s worth remembering that, just like the rest of us, Google is a business operating in the digital age. As such, the company is beholden to provide quality, relevant experiences to its end users. Unlike most of us, however, Google’s user base spans most of the planet, and increasingly, these users are going mobile.

RWD to the Rescue

Mobile mindfulness aside, it is a bit surprising to note the degree to which Google is pushing responsive web design (RWD) as its preferred mobile-friendly website design solution. A bit further down in the aforementioned webmaster blog announcing the April 21st mobile-friendly algo rollout, Google suggests that companies needing help with the transition check out its “guide to mobile-friendly sites” document. When you click on the link, you’re brought to a “Get Started” page, which offers a number of additional resources and guides. One of the guides is titled, “What are the top three things I should know when building a site for mobile devices?” Here’s #3:

“3. Select a mobile template, theme, or design that’s consistent for all devices (i.e., use responsive web design).” {Google’s parenthetical note, not mine}

There’s more:

“’Responsive web design’ or RWD means that the page uses the same URL and the same code whether the user is on a desktop computer, tablet, or mobile phone – only the display adjusts or ‘responds’ according to the screen size. Google recommends using RWD over other design patterns.” {This last sentence is Google’s emphasis, not mine}

Admittedly, responsive web design has been Google’s preferred mobile configuration for some time now, but even I – a longstanding evangelist of RWD – am surprised to see the company take such a firm stance on the subject.

Those crazy Google developers are practically hitting companies over the head with an RWD frying pan…

Go with Google and RWD

For once, I am in total agreement with Google. As I’ve written before, I believe RWD is, in fact, the best mobile-friendly design solution for most businesses, especially SMBs. In an increasingly complex digital environment characterized by consumer driven, mobile centricity, brands must be able to ensure that prospects and customers can easily access their website from anywhere and enjoy a seamless user experience regardless of the device and platform they are on.

Responsive web design accomplishes this, resolving a number of issues for businesses. Designing responsively eliminates the need to create a separate mobile site, saving time and money. It also provides users with a seamless experience across devices, offering the same information no matter how they access a brand’s website. With RWD, organizations are able to maintain brand integrity by delivering consistent messaging to any web user. They can integrate mobile into their online presence to create a truly cohesive user experience, an experience focused on people rather than on devices.

I’ll step off my soap box.

Writing in 1789, Benjamin Franklin noted that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. If Google has its way, we’re going to have to add RWD-configured mobile friendly websites to the list.

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