Google is scheduled to roll out another big algorithm update on April 21st that has webmasters around the country feeling anxious. It’s an update that Google Webmaster Trends Executives are saying will have more of an impact than any of their previous updates including Panda and Penguin.
Just so we’re clear, we are getting ready to see the biggest change to online search in the last decade. Got it? Okay.
Here’s the short of it: in an effort to return more quality content to mobile searchers, Google will be adding “mobile friendliness” into their search algorithm. Websites that are graded “mobile friendly” will rank higher on search results.
Press releases from Google corporate have listed some of the criteria that make a website “mobile friendly.” Avoiding software that is not common on mobile platforms like Flash (Seriously, if you’re still using a website with flash you deserve to be penalized). Text must be readable without zooming, the page must resize to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally and buttons/links should be large enough and placed far enough a part that they are easily clickable.
Google is about to implement their biggest algorithm change to date and effect search results for the entire online world. So what does this mean for your practice? Here are three responses:
1. Don’t panic.
Starting April 21, if you don’t have a mobile friendly site, will you drop off the Google-sphere? No. Google still has to return search results to users. In most cities, out of every ten dental practices, I typically see one that has a mobile friendly site. Will that site be ranked higher? Yes. To be honest, it probably already is at the top since mobile usability has been used in ranking for some time now. But Google will still have to include the other 9 “not mobile friendly” sites simply because they must populate the search result.
The solution will be some type of “mobile friendly” tag for the short-term future to designate sites that have met their requirements. Once the majority of sites become mobile friendly, I suspect we’ll see that tag drop.
2. Don’t be a hater.
Anytime we see a dramatic change like this there’s always haters. Accusations of a Google monopoly and questions about “What right do they have to force me to have a mobile site,” will be plentiful. The thing we must keep in mind is Google. Is. Right.
What Google knows is that smart phone usage has grown exponentially from under 200 million shipments in 2010 to over 1200 million shipments in 2014. Smartphones currently outnumber personal computers 4:1. And this is not a trend that it peaking. It has only begun.
What Google also knows is that towards the end of 2013 more people starting accessing websites on mobile devices than personal computers. We witnessed those numbers flip in what was quietly the most significant change in online behavior since its inception. Right now, those numbers may be 55% mobile, 45% desktop computer depending on your industry, but in the next ten years, they’ll soar to 90% mobile, 10% desktop.
Google’s key to their existence as a company is to give users quality results when they search. If they don’t, they quickly become irrelevant. If you search Google and get a result that you’re not looking for, you may pop on over to Bing or Yahoo to see if you get something different. Maybe not the first time, but after a handful of unsatisfactory results, you end up changing search engines.
Predicting this mobile usage trend, Google is smartly nudging everyone to rethink their websites. Really, it’s something we should thank them for. Yellow Pages never did anything like this… and look where they’re at.
3. Reevaluate your website.
This is a great time to analyze your current site and put together a plan to make it mobile friendly. I have no doubt there will be tons of website companies jumping on this bandwagon and offering “mobile friendly” sites for $500. Please, please, please don’t get caught in a knee-jerk reaction that promises a quick fix. We’ve seen this before right? These are the same companies six years ago that we’re creating separate mobile sites for smart phones. They’re the same companies four years ago that were building apps from websites. It’s all short-term, money making solutions without future context of where the space is headed.
My advice is to not make a short-sighted, reactive decision to solve a long-term problem. Find a website company whose vision goes beyond April 21 and can help you create an online strategy for the next three to four years.
While it’s certain that Google’s April 21st algorithm change will stir up a lot of questions, complaining and overall hype, you can avoid it all by staying calm, understanding Google’s decision and creating a strategic website strategy for the future.