Avoid 2015 Google Penalty with a Mobile-Friendly Website Design

April 5, 2015
kspteam

In Google’s recent announcement on mobile search, a new algorithm update will begin this April 21st and affect more website rankings than ever before. Even Google’s initial quake of Panda in 2012 affected only 12% of website queries. But the new update (which will be named at birth by Search Engine Land) will admittedly affect over 40% of mobile queries.

It is unclear at this stage to what degree each site will be affected but it is known that it will hang in balance between websites being mobile optimized and not being mobile optimized. It is also unclear as to if the new algorithm will affect only mobile search queries or all of search queries.

Below, we’ll show you how to navigate the decision making process when going mobile-friendly. There are a few ways to go and each has its pros and cons which is laid out for you. Much of your direction in going website “responsive” will be dictated on how easy or fast it can be to work with and change your existing website setup.

Google initially announced it’s commitment to improving mobile search in late January and since Google is warning the public ahead of time, it is a wise decision to use this time to prepare. So if you haven’t started, waste no more time and get going!

Here is how to get compliant with Google’s requirement for mobile responsive website design.

“What do I care if my site isn’t ready for mobile?”
Unfortunately, many website owners are still in the thinking that mobile is irrelevant to their business. This is typical of companies who sell mostly or all B2B. They’ll say, “My customers only search via desktop in their office.” or “We are trying to target the purchasing manager in businesses. They don’t buy on their cell phones or tablets.”

Even though the bulk of the search IS still on desktop for those companies, there is still a fast growing necessity to be mobile responsive; mainly for 2 reasons:

  1. Google is about to drop the hammer on mobile search and that could affect desktop rankings as well.
  2. There’s an ongoing increase in assisted conversions. The growth in overall mobile search applies to business users as well as non-business use. The argument that most purchases take place on a desktop holds less water since more purchasing decisions begin on mobile devices and migrate to desktop for further research and the sale.

“Is my site mobile-friendly now?”
Yes- Great job! Carry on with your life!

Not sure? Here’s how to find out: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

We can assume the Google’s algorithm is going to be taking in more website data than the mobile-friendly tool analyzes but it is a good place to start. If you’re site has failed the test, hopefully you’re not surprised and are ready to take action.

Time to get responsive and be responsive. There is really 2 directions to go when becoming mobile-friendly.

  1. Redesign your entire website for mobile responsiveness.
  2. ONLY create a mobile-friendly version of your website and redirect mobile visits there.

Initially there was speculation on whether it was better to do a whole responsive redesign or a mobile only responsive design. However, Matt Cutts has confirmed that Google will know by virtue of the site’s user-agent instructions that your site is mobile-friendly.

Matt Cutts on Duplicate Content on Mobile Sites.

Pros vs. Cons in Both Redesign Options
Full Website Redesign Pros

  • When you update your website improving on look, usability, and functionality, it gets it all done at once which saves on your long term cost of being up-to-date and web compliant.

Full Website Redesign Cons

  • Will have to work harder to make it truly mobile optimized (removing unnecessary content or products, nav options, pages, etc.) on the smaller screen sizes. If this is not done properly, the user will endure a lot or scrolling to read your content or see all the products.
  • Since desktop elements usually just stack themselves in the same order, some of the more important sidebar elements (like call-to-actions such as quote forms) will drop lower in the page by default.
  • Since the entire site is being redone for mobile-friendly, the time and cost could go up since there are typically much more tedious processes when creating the styles to work on each screen size.

Mobile-Only Website Creation Pros

  • Great option for getting compliant quick when reworking your current website is structurally difficult.
  • Easier build a site that is 100% catered to the mobile experience (removing unnecessary page elements, don’t have to worry about indexing separate content because it will canonicalize the desktop version in search.

Mobile-Only Website Creation Cons

  • Don’t get to revamp your entire site and it’s possible you’ll end up having to pay more to do a redesign for the desktop version or both desktop and mobile in the upcoming few years.

Tips on Going Mobile-Friendly
Options for redesigning an entirely new website.

  1. Design from scratch using a mobile-friendly framework like Twitter Bootstrap.
  2. Or install a mobile-friendly template design (i.e. Themeforest theme on Magento, hosted shopping cart themes like Shopify or BigCommerce.)

Option on how to get ONLY the ‘mobile-friendly’ website:

  1. Design from scratch.
  2. Mobile only Template (i.e. good luck finding one).
  3. Use a template that is built for mobile and desktop but is only redirected when the user is on a mobile device. In this instance, user will only see the mobile-friendly style of the website so you don’t actually have to redesign the template for desktop use.

Other Tips:

  • Subdomain or subdirectory will work fine for separate mobile-only website. According to Cutts, having those will help people understand they are on the mobile version of your website if it wasn’t completely obvious already. (i.e. m.website.com or website.com/m/rest-of-url.html)
  • Canonicalize mobile page templates using the desktop URLs.
  • Remove additional page elements to make the experience less cumbersome (i.e. unnecessary pages, products, nav options, content, images that are just filler on desktop). This can be done by using tags that tell the browser to omit certain blocks of code when on a particular device. On a mobile-only website version, you don’t have to worry about it cause you are building it for mobile and should use less content and site options when you build it.

Next step kick up the feet and basque in the glory that is your new mobile-friendly website. You will no doubt reap the benefit of having one. Here at KSP, we don’t agree with a lot of the stuff Google does. However in this case, we see it as strong nudge getting online advertisers current with the times and that’s a good thing.

My last advice is don’t cut corners on this. There is no point to spending any time and money on going mobile-friendly if it doesn’t help users navigate your site better and increase sales.

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