So you built a great website a couple years ago. Polished, modern design? Check. Developed on an easy-to-use content management system? Check. Search-engine friendly? Check. You probably even said to yourself, "Now this one is going to last a few years before feeling stale."
And guess what Google just did to you? It changed the game on you... again.
What is this new Google change?
By now, maybe you've heard of the upcoming changes to Google's algorithm to provide better search results for mobile users. If you haven't, you can read all about it in Google's Webmaster Tools blog post, "Finding more mobile-friendly search results," or just read the most important part:
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.
That sounds scary. What should I do? Is it time to panic?
If it makes you feel better for a minute I guess you can, but I wouldn't. Instead, let's focus on what this means for you and how you can gauge the impact. Keep in mind that, at least for the present, this only affects search from mobile devices - not all Google searches. So, while it's certainly important to address mobile, this may or may not represent an immediate doomsday scenario for you.
Before you do anything else, use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test to determine if your site is in good shape or not. If you pass, pat yourself on the back and move on to the rest of your to-do list (or read a number of other useful posts on this blog). If you don't pass, then keep on reading this post to determine your next steps.
So, you failed - now what?
You have some work to do. Using Google Webmaster Tools, you can review a more exhaustive list of site issues, and then start to triage them. But before you jump in, make sure you answer these three questions.
- How important is mobile search traffic to you?
Start by thinking about how significant mobile search traffic is for your brand. Mobile traffic has certainly increased: More than 42 percent of organic search visits occurred on smartphones and tablets in Q4 2014, up from 31 percent a year earlier. So, while neglecting mobile search would certainly be irresponsible for most brands, there are always degrees of importance and prioritization for this kind of thing. When you think about how important mobile traffic may be to your business, evaluate those suspicions by looking at your web analytics and what percentage of mobile traffic is coming from search. Use this information to determine if the Google change requires you to immediately focus all of your resources on mobile or if you are OK taking a bit more time to implement changes.
- Band-Aid or redesign?
Based on how important mobile is to you, and how large and complex your site is, you should determine if you want to create some interim fixes to have a more mobile-friendly version of the site, use this opportunity to redesign your site using responsive web design, or look at a mobile-first site (responsive design where mobile is the primary consideration). Some content management systems/themes make it easier to implement these changes with only minor effort, while others are more complex. In the long run, a mobile-first or responsive web design approach is where most brands will eventually go, so you should look at the time-cost-importance equation to determine if an interim fix is valuable enough for you to allocate resources.
- Can you really do this on your own?
Are you sure you want to make important decisions and changes like this on your own? If you aren't fully confident that you know the best path to take - or in your abilities to execute - consult an expert. The old "measure twice and cut once" adage applies here. A small investment in time to plan and execute properly can result in huge savings in cost, errors, and traffic drop-offs. And just like with doctors, if you aren't comfortable with the diagnosis from the pro you asked, don't be afraid to get a second opinion.