Is your site ready for Mobilegeddon?

A little known tweak to the Google search algorithm is going to have some pretty big impacts on site rankings. From tomorrow, April 21 2015, any website that is not mobile-friendly will take a dive in search results. What does this really mean, and is your site as mobile-friendly as you think? More importantly - does Google think your site is ready??

The change is apparently one of the larger changes Google has implemented recently, and their reasoning is sound. The search behemoth wants to ensure that users accessing the internet from mobile devices, have the best experience possible. That largely translates to providing users with higher quality results. That's unfortunate news for the approximately 66% of Australian business owners who have a website, but not necessarily a mobile friendly site.

What constitutes a mobile friendly website?

This is quite important because it's not necessarily what you think it is.

Google classes a mobile friendly website as:

  • Responsive, to adjust to the dimensions of the user's device - most commonly with breakpoints for tablets and mobiles
  • Containing content which scales for the mobile experience

Importantly, it is NOT a website where:

  • The website has content that does not scale appropriately for a mobile device
  • The URL redirects the user to a separate mobile site (for example an

This last point is a doozy - because until responsive websites came along and became the defacto cool kid on the IP Block (tehe), a common approach for mobile sites was to have completely separate sites, and redirect the user to the appropriate adaptive site for their device. Hence if I were to load a website from a mobile phone, this could be accessed/re-directed via '' instead of ''.

Your m-dot adapted website is probably not Google 'mobile friendly'... bugger.

This all made sense until we realised that responsive was better and cooler, and clients generally hated having to maintain separate content for both the mobile and desktop versions of the site. In other blogs you may read these days, it's clear that there are much better things to be worrying about (in terms of content management) than having to duplicate and manage separate mobile site content. At the very best, it was often 'forgotten' about by content managers and became a nightmare to maintain. Wiliam hasn't made an m-dot specific site for some time now, and there are reason why, even before Google hatched this latest plan.

How will this improve the search experience?

Google is hopeful that by rewarding 'mobile-friendly' sites, that the user will not only have less problems reading and using the internet on their mobile devices, but access to more features and better content. The reasoning is that businesses will focus on the mobile experience, which is something that most people have clearly not been doing. Remember that only in the past 12 months, mobile internet usage out-paced desktop internet usage for the first time ever. So why are we continuing to build (or put up with) websites that are only designed with the desktop in mind?

The truth is, most agencies are not ignoring mobile - Wiliam for one will normally start UX and prototyping based on the mobile experience first, and then scale up for desktop. This depends on the client, as sometimes we start big and then scale down. The point is not how we focus on it, but that we do focus on it. And I think most agencies worth their salt these days are similar.

When you are designing a website with mobile in mind, you start to think about features that go beyond the realm of the desktop. Suddenly things like 'my nearest store' or 'find restaurants/pubs/ATMs within walking distance of my location... become functions of the application. Been dating with Tinder online recently? How's that location finder working for you on desktop? Oh that's right, it doesn't - because your desktop doesn't have GPS or a network SIM. Suddenyl you have an example of an application or website that simply won't work unless it is mobile.

Nobody wants to be stuck on the road squinting at some archaic desktop layout, pinch-zooming in to read what is essentially all fineprint on your handset's small screen. Whether you're looking up a store's inventory, or trying to buy tickets to a movie, or book a flight... there are some sites that do it better than others these days, because the business has invested the time and money into a better mobile experience for its customers, and importantly, it's potential customers. Who would have thought that overnight, Google could find it in itself to reward these people for their foresightedness and innovation?

The bottom line is - Google doesn't want users to see YOUR site, if it's not a good mobile experience, when they could be served up relevant content from a COMPETITOR'S site that is designed for mobile.

What could this mean for adaptive sites?

It's early days yet to see how rankings will affect people who have tried to do the right thing, yet are potentially penalised by the new Google SEO regime. Suffice to say, if this trend is not relaxed / undone and continues to favour responsive sites, then it spells the eventual death knell for fully-adaptive sites. Not to say that all use of adaptive templates is bad - we have created many websites in responsive and fluid fashion that also adapts, but it could be trouble for any site that is only adaptive.

In a sense, this blog could nearly be titled "is the adaptive site now a lame duck?"

Another thought is how it will affect service providers such as 51Degrees or similar services. A developer would integrate a service such as this in order to ascertain information about the user's device, and then load the appropriate page accordingly. A responsive site does not necessarily rely on such a technology - but an adaptive site will, since no developer is able to maintain a constant up-to-date list of all available brands and devices and their specifications - things simply move to fast. Whether there is a place for such a service in future remains to be seen, and to be frank, I would be happy to see the back of these, as I've often frowned at the extortionate licensing fees they can charge you on an annual, per server basis.

Is it all bad for non-mobile websites?

Not quite all bad. The changes are designed to affect mobile-only searches. That means a user who is accessing the internet from a desktop / laptop will see a different set of results than a user searching on a mobile. There is no reason to penalise a business for having a website that was designed for desktop, when they are accessing it on the device it was intended. The changes are geared at only making the mobile experience better for mobile users. That does make sense.

If you want to capture the market for mobile / tablet and your web experience isn't quite up for it, clearly this could be an expensive change. It's surely going to generate a few phone calls to Wiliam as some of our older clients wisen up to the fact that they have apparently dropped in rank. The harsh reality is that they might need to update their site for 2015 and go responsive. The thing with the Internet is that unless you are savvy and embracing mobile technology, you are going to be further and further left behind, if not just penalised by the likes of Google. This is certainly a step that will help motivate businesses to build a mobile site, if they don't already have one.

Evaluate your page status

If you're not sure how your website stands up in terms of mobile compatibility, you can head over to Google where there are tools to evaluate the status of your page.