Mobile searches have consistently been on the rise for our B-to-B clients over the last 5 years, averaging 10% of all traffic. (Worldwide, mobile internet usage has actually just surpassed desktop searches.) But while it's important to offer the best user experience (UX) to your mobile visitors, it's the impact on your search engine optimization (SEO) that should have you most alarmed. Why? Because if you're tech or industrial company's website design isn't yet truly and fully responsive, its lack of being "mobile friendly" will now begin to have serious impact on your organic search term rankings on Google. Here's how.
On March 26th, 2018, Google officially announced that they would be using mobile first indexing. This means that they are now indexing all websites based on their mobile or responsive version, not their desktop version. So, if your most recent website development approach wasn't from a responsive point-of-view, you’re about to see a drop in your organic rankings. And as we all know, a slip from page 1 to page 2 on an important product or technology keyword can make a world of difference when it comes to your web traffic.
The “mobile site” shortcut isn’t going to cut it anymore either; Google wants to see your content, all of it. The good news is, responsive development is constantly maturing, and there are plenty of B-to-B web design and development agencies out there that can help you get your website ready for mobile-first indexing.
Why is Google Implementing Mobile-First Indexing?
Traditionally, Google’s algorithm has indexed a web page and assigned it a position in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) based on the desktop version of a page. When a site was unresponsive, this practice provided a poor user experience (UX) to mobile users for two reasons. They were either presented with the mobile version of a site that typically contained reduced content for ease-of-use, or the site was difficult to read and navigate on a smaller screen. By moving to mobile-first indexing, Google’s aim is to encourage website owners to provide the best user experience to its visitors regardless of device or screen size. So with a powerful mobile search trend, Google is forced to adapt to the most popular means of search, and so should you.
How Important is Responsivity in Comparison with Other Google Ranking Factors?
It’s difficult to know which factor is MOST important to Google. We can say with confidence that if your site is responsive, has a boat-load of fresh, user-driven content, and has been built using industry best practices for SEO, then you’ll be in the best shape to appear on the first page of organic SERPs.
Load time is another critical SEO factor. In terms of web development, you want DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) code. This will come into play when we discuss less-attractive alternatives to responsive development in the next section.
If you’ve put a mobile site out recently and are hoping it fills the void a little longer, keep in mind that content is king. Mobile sites are notorious for providing less content. Until now, that was fine because Google based its rankings on your desktop site anyway. This is no longer the case. You’re going to want to put as much optimized, keyword-rich content as you can out there and provide a fully mobile responsive user experience.
As a small business, we understand that cost is always a factor. If you’re working towards optimizing your site and can only manage one upgrade at a time, tend to your content first; make it so good that people will deal with the less-than-perfect UX on a mobile device. Then work on making your site responsive for optimal delivery.
Now that You Know the Why, You’ve Got Options On the How
When making your site mobile-friendly you have options but, if we’re being honest, there’s only one that Google is recommending, and that’s going responsive all the way. We want you to have all the facts though, so let’s briefly discuss each potential approach.
Mobile sites, also referred to as mDots, are separate sites that serve different, often limited, content geared toward mobile devices.
Mobile sites won’t suddenly stop indexing. In some cases, they’re considered an OK option because they provide just enough content and functionality to give the user what they need on a mobile device and won’t compromise speed, which is an important factor in UX design. They’re also still an option for unique mobile-only marketing ideas that don’t have a strong SEO requirement.
With Google now looking exclusively at mobile content and performance, a brief glance at you and your information via a mobile site is no longer a good choice. You’re going to want all of your content to be accessible to viewers and indexable to search robots.
Adaptive Design is a somewhat awkward hybrid solution. It’s better than an mDot, but still not as effective as a Responsive Design. In Adaptive Design, multiple layouts that target different devices are created, one for mobile, one for tablet, and one for desktop.
Adaptive Design works and it doesn’t sacrifice content like mDots do. Adaptive sites are also easier to code and obviously anything that takes less time to accomplish tends to be less expensive.
The Adaptive Design approach is code-heavy and therefore slower to load. With speed being a critically important factor in mobile indexing, adaptive sites won’t rank as well as similar sites that employ Responsive Design. They also “snap” into place if you adjust your screen size yourself, which is less friendly than the smooth reaction a responsive site provides.
Also, Adaptive Design isn’t as flexible as responsive design. Yes, it does resize the site content based on screen size, and that would be an awesome solution if all mobile, tablet, and desktop devices had the same screen size and resolution, but they don’t. So, while adaptive design is initially a less expensive, slightly easier solution to implement in the short run, it’s really not ideal unless you’re into adding a new layout every time a new device comes out.
Similar to Adaptive Design, Responsive Web Design (often referred to as RWD, Responsive Design, or simply Responsive) is similar to Adaptive Design in that website content is served based on device size.
Responsive sites are built on a grid defined by CSS classes that use breakpoints to determine how the layout will appear based on device size. In addition to layout, some functionality also changes to create a better UX. The most obvious example of this is classic vs mobile navigation where, on mobile devices, the classic navigation menu will be replaced by a “hamburger” button that expands on click or hover. Responsive layouts are by far the most user-friendly in terms of confluence among pagespeed, functionality, and content provided.
The really good news is that, when planned properly, when implementing a responsive design you’ll have the opportunity to update everything else that matters to search engines, such as URL structure, headlines (H1s and H2s), meaningfulness and depth of content, and adding strategies and tools to keep your site fresh at all times.
The goal of Responsive Design is to create a streamlined user experience regardless of device type or browser. With the number of browsers and devices continually evolving, this is no easy feat. Thus, Responsive Design implementation, even when left in the capable hands of an experienced developer, tends to take more time and money to bring to fruition than adaptive.
We’ve given you the facts, you know your options, now it’s time to get moving. We can confidently say that companies who don’t optimize for mobile will see their rankings dwindle. While companies who adopt and take advantage of mobile-friendly site design and development will see their rankings zoom (assuming all other SEO best practices are being followed).
We recommend talking to your friendly neighborhood digital agency or website developer to get the ball rolling on your responsive site. If you don’t have a go-to developer in mind, don’t hesitate to reach out to us by email or phone, we’d be happy to answer your questions. Until then, be sure to stay informed by signing up to get our updates on all things related to today’s best practices in technology and industrial marketing.
Already have a responsive website and wondering “now what”? That’s another blog altogether. Stay tuned.
*To be clear, Google will still index non-responsive websites, they just won’t perform as well in SERPs as responsive sites.