If SEO is important to you, listen up. Next month, Google will be making a major change to the way it ranks its search results. Starting April 21, the search engine will now favor websites that are mobile-responsive, that is, optimized for tablet and smartphone. If your site is not mobile-friendly, it will drop significantly in Google’s search rankings after April 21. Google’s new search algorithm will be rolled out worldwide, affecting mobile searches in all languages in every corner of the globe.
It’s estimated that up to 60% of Google searches are currently conducted via mobile. Considering that the number of mobile devices in use has surpassed the number of people on the planet and continues to grow exponentially, Google’s changes are aligned with the way that most people search for and find information.
If you don’t know if your site is mobile-friendly, try this test:
• Open your website on your smartphone or tablet. Do you have to pinch and zoom in in order to read the content? If so, your site is not optimized for mobile search. On a mobile-responsive site, your content will line up in a single column and will be easy to read without pinching or zooming.
• On your desktop or laptop, open your website in your browser. Grab the lower right hand corner of the browser window with your mouse then make the window gradually smaller, and even smaller. If the content slowly rearranges itself to fit (and stay) within the window, it’s mobile responsive. If part of your site gets cut off and can no longer be seen in the main window, it’s not optimized for mobile search.
• If you’re still not sure (or just want someone to give you the answer), take Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
Creating a Mobile Responsive Website
How can you make your site mobile responsive if it’s not already that way? You have a couple of options:
1. Update your website template.
Your web template (also called a Theme) is the foundation of your website’s design layout. There are many mobile-responsive themes to choose from, available for free or for $, depending upon the features it contains.
Platforms such as WordPress, Drupal, Squarespace, or drag-and-drop websites all offer mobile responsive templates. If you use a template from your hosting provider, ask them about mobile-friendly options for updating your site.How to Update to a Mobile Responsive WordPress Template
In WordPress, updating your template can be done on the back end in your Dashboard under Appearance > Themes. Do a search of your installed themes or click Add New and enter “mobile responsive” in the search box. Preview the themes and select the one(s) you like by clicking Install.
Once you’ve installed a few new Themes, click Live Preview on each to get a general sense of how your site will look in that layout. Decide which template you like best, and click Activate. Then, view the pages of your site in the new Theme by mousing over your Name in the top left hand corner of the window and click Visit Site. Don’t fret if things look wonky. Different Themes make your content look slightly different. To edit the way your content looks on individual pages, click Edit Page, make your changes and Update. Tweak and proof all of your pages until they look the way you want. Then Update to save changes.
2. Use mobile responsive plug-ins.
If you’d rather not change your website template, you can install plug-ins that help make your site responsive to tablets and smartphones. A plug-in is a piece of software that works with your website to process specific types of content. Similar to Themes, plug-ins may be purchased or installed for free, depending on the features they offer.
If you choose to go this route, be sure to do your homework first. Read the reviews of the plug-ins you’re interested in to see how well they work, how they’ve been rated by other users, and if there’s tech support available from the developer should you encounter a problem.
If you upgrade your site with a mobile-friendly plugin, the design and color of your site will look different on a mobile device than it does on your desktop computer. Also be advised that the plug-in you choose will need to be updated regularly (by you) to minimize security risks to your site.
There are many WordPress plug-ins available to make your site mobile-friendly. If you use a different platform (Drupal, Squarespace, etc.), research what plug-ins they offer for mobile optimization.
For Best Results, Build from the Foundation Up
Personally, I recommend door #1, updating to a mobile responsive web template. If you’re building a new house that needs to be earthquake-proof, it makes more sense to do the seismic retrofits from the foundation, instead of incorporating them as add-ons after the house is built. The integrity of your house will be greater if the requirements are built firmly into the foundation.
Whichever option you choose, having a mobile-optimized site will put you ahead of the competition. After April 21, it will guarantee you a higher spot in Google’s search engine rankings and offer more web visitors direct access to your products and services. As the world’s mobile population continues to grow by the day, aligning yourself with the way that people increasingly search for information will guarantee that you’re staying ahead of the curve, not left in the dust.