Responsive Design and Google Search

published April 21, 2015

If you have a website and it hasn’t been updated in years, April 21, 2015 was an important day for you. A substantial change to the Google Search Algorithm meant if your site wasn’t mobile-friendly, Google stopped ranking it well in results. No matter how good your content might be, if you run your site through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and don’t get the thumbs up, you can expect a steady decline in site traffic.

Solution? Use Responsive Design

If you aren’t already familiar with the term, Responsive Design means a website adjusts its appearance dynamically based on the width of the browser being used to view it. You don’t need a special mobile app version of your site. Unless you have a compelling reason to offer one of those, most people aren’t going to wait for it to download anyway. If you’re on a computer and want a quick practical demonstration of Responsive Design you can resize your browser window to be as narrow as you like. This site will change its appearance and remain easy to view and use. If you’re reading this on a phone, that’s all the demonstration you need. It just works.

one website. many devices.

Why is this so important?

Google has made this rare change to how their search engine works because more people are visiting websites on their phones now than on their computers. If your site doesn’t use Responsive Design it most likely means visitors have to scroll all over their little screens and zoom in and out of text in order to gather useful information. If it’s hard to select links because of text size or spacing, Google is taking note of that too. And if you’re using Flash Animation. Well, insert your favorite “The 90’s called and they want their website back” joke here. Flash Animation is the kiss of death for mobile use. Even if it somehow works (and it probably doesn’t) the resources it requires are too much for most cellular connections to handle. If your site won’t load in a timely manner, most visitors are leaving before they have a chance to see it.

This is only the beginning

Google hasn’t made this change for arbitrary reasons. They have competition in search from Bing and ah, what else do people use for search? They want to serve up the most relevant and useful content to their users. In a way the experience a user has on a site they found using Google Search influences their opinion of Google itself. Starting today you know when you search for a restaurant or product on your phone the suggestions Google gives you will be easy to view and fully functional on your phone. Expect Bing (and everyone else) to follow suit.

If you’ve been justifying not updating your site because you think most people aren’t using it on mobile anyway it won’t change how Google ranks your site. If you’re not Mobile-Friendly, Google will be pushing you to the bottom of the list. It’s time to bite the bullet. Cut and paste your site’s URL into Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and see how you do.

Options for an update

If your site tanked the Mobile-Friendly Test you really should update, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to make Google happy. A tiny budget can still get you space on services like WordPress.com. The good folks at Automattic have seen this phones-first mandate coming for years. The vast majority of their themes are fully Responsive. If you already paid a designer in the past and have more resources to play with, chances are good those original designs can be made to work. Most developers can let that suit out for you, myself included.

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