“Mobilegeddon” was the affectionate nickname, but more than 120 days after Google’s April 21st release date favoring mobile-friendly sites in their new algorithm, it’s clear that name was more bark than bite. Did you make it or miss it? Either way, there is good news.
On February 26th, 2015, Google announced the pending release of an algorithm update that favored mobile-friendly sites in mobile search results. The goal was to promote sites that provided a better mobile experience. Google created a “mobile-friendly test” so you could test your site and find out exactly what needed to be updated. Some brands were OK, and others needed to start work immediately in order to make the deadline. That gave development teams all of two months to react. The finish line for all development was achieving a “mobile-friendly” tag from Google in the list of mobile search results.
Mobile-friendly matters more every day
Most marketers know mobile matters, but let’s review some recent facts from a ComScore study of U.S. mobile device adoption.
- Smartphone penetration reached 75% of the U.S. mobile market in 2014
- Mobile commerce jumped 28% in 2014
- Mobile now accounts for 60% of digital retail engagement
- As of Q4 2014, mobile search via mobile browsers or apps accounts for 29% of all search activity
- As search increases on smartphones (up 17%) and tablets (up 28%), desktop search has stagnated and even dropped slightly
- Google received 66% of search queries in Q4 2014, followed by Bing with 20% and Yahoo with 11%
Search via mobile devices is growing, while desktop search is stagnating or dropping. There is no denying that consumers are changing their behavior, and no company is in a better position than Google to see this. Which is why when Google said they would be updating their algorithm to weigh mobile-friendly sites over non-mobile sites, many brands jumped at the chance to update and position their sites accordingly.
Even if you missed the deadline, all is not lost. If you’re responsible for marketing, you must give your mobile presence the attention it deserves. The good news is, when you do update your site, it doesn’t take too long for Google to give you a pass with the mobile-friendly tag. Four months out, it appears that Google is distributing the tag faster. Mobilegeddon was actually a misleading name, because April 21st was just the beginning and certainly not the end of the mobile web opportunity.
Getting the tag: 23 legacy sites get mobile-friendly in five weeks
When the Google directive came down, some companies ignored it, some panicked and most got to work. The latter was the case for one of our clients, and consequently our digital team. This organization manages hundreds of programmatic websites on behalf of business partners. These business partners rely heavily on search rankings for growth, so dropping in search, even mobile search, was not an option.
Our digital team has been developing mobile-friendly sites for several years, but this was a high-volume conversion with an aggressive time frame and lot of variables. Being focused was paramount.
We approached this with a published plan, a schedule and collaboration tools. Google Docs proved a simple, helpful tool to update daily milestones with complete transparency between our dev team and our client. Our team developed a two-phased optimization plan for each site. The first-phase priority was to achieve Google’s mobile-friendly tag; the second phase was to optimize user experience as best we could within the scope of the project.
Phase one priority accomplishments:
- Added the proper viewport meta tag
- Resized elements on mobile to eliminate “pinch and zoom”
- Eliminate all horizontal scrolling
- Make buttons big enough for the fingertip
- Adjusted text to be large enough to be legible on mobile devices
Google is spot-on with web standards. In fact, you can easily test your website to see if it has the mobile-friendly tag. But there are some further enhancements that we implemented to improve user experience.
Phase two mobile optimization accomplishments:
- Implemented responsive image techniques to load different crops and sizes for different screen sizes (desktop, phone, tablet)
- Replaced static carousel images with CMS-editable HTML and CSS for easier updates and content management in the future
- Reformatted desktop-style navigation as hamburger icon navigation
As the deadline approached, we wondered how the April 21st algorithm launch was going to roll out. Was there a specific hour that sites would be indexed? Was there a cutoff time? Did we have the whole day? As the days flew by, we noticed Google taking longer to return results from their “mobile-friendly test.” It became apparent that not even Google would be able to reindex every request for mobile results in 24 hours. Then Google announced the algorithm would roll out over time, most likely taking a week to complete, and even then the changes would be ongoing.
Still need to make your digital properties mobile-friendly? Here are six tips to improve your mobile experience.
First of all, think mobile first with your digital properties. Designing for mobile devices from the outset forces you to focus on what is most important to users. What’s important on mobile often turns out to be most important on the desktop, too.
Mobile user interface
- Consider tabbed navigation with simplified options or icons (think of your Facebook app with the four icons at the top).
- Or hide your full menu off-screen and display it with a menu (fondly called the hamburger icon).
- Let go of pixel-perfect designs and the “fold.” It’s no longer possible to predict the size of a user’s browser or what device they’re using. Content and images should be flexible, reflowing on smaller screens as needed.
- Consider the size of images and design assets. Many users on mobile have slow connections and limited bandwidth. If updating an older site, consider replacing images that were used to create gradients, shadows and rounded corners, and display fonts with modern CSS.
- Designing and developing for the mobile user experience is a good opportunity to either shape or edit your content — what’s most important for your users / site visitors?
- The small amount of screen “real estate” on mobile means you have to narrow your focus and provide a clear, simple call to action. So maybe, just maybe, cut that crazy three-tiered, 37-item nav menu down to the essentials.
No end in sight
Mobilegeddon, aka April 21st, came and went. And nobody screamed. Google noted there was a 4.7% uptick in mobile-friendly sites on April 22nd. A good-sized number, considering that’s 4.7% of over 40 billion websites. Some sites dropped a bit, but Google didn’t really punish sites and there were no major stories about brands dropping significantly. However, knowing that Google is always tweaking their algorithms, it stands to reason that it will be much better for the long-term health of your site to get mobile-friendly as soon as possible.
This post originally appeared on June 26th, 2015 on BMA Chicago’s B2B Insights blog.