On February 26, Google made a surprising announcement:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.

Changes to the algorithm are not usually advertised, so this marks an even more significant update. Google’s message with Mobilegeddon is this: “Go mobile, or go bust.” You probably haven’t noticed the limitation yet, however: for now, Mobilegeddon will only affect Google searches made on mobile devices — Google search engine results pages (SERPs) on mobile will show mostly mobile-friendly sites. Those who mainly use desktop computers (or tablets) for going on the web probably haven’t noticed any differences yet, but with the rollout of the change for mobile, we can be reasonably sure that changes on desktop searches will soon follow.

Some background on mobile Internet usage.

In January 2014, mobile exceeded PC Internet usage for the first time in history—a thing most industry watchers, including Google, foresaw with the introduction of smartphones like the iPhone and Android phones in the last few years.

Google also foresaw that dominant mobile use would eat at their main source of income: desktop search ads. To also dominate mobile search, Google introduced “enhanced ad campaigns” in February 2013, telling desktop advertisers not to worry because their existing accounts would be upgraded and their ads will also show up in mobile searches.

All was well, until a problem surfaced: most of the eCommerce websites out there, including those of Google desktop advertisers, were not mobile-friendly. Mobile user experience in these advertiser sites were so bad that conversions (sales) were much lower for mobile users than for desktop users. Advertisers became unwilling to pay as high for ad clicks made on mobile devices as for clicks made on desktop computers—decreasing demand for mobile clicks.

This led to lower mobile ad revenues for Google compared to desktop ad revenues and in turn, resulted in flat stock performance—Google stock went flat for two years after “enhanced” campaigns were introduced.

Meanwhile, as mobile usage grows, its potential revenues go up, and are estimated by Gartner, Inc. to reach $77 billion by 2017. While this is happening, mobile users are learning to do away with Google search altogether, preferring to go the way of apps, or online sales giants like Amazon. Gartner, Inc. estimates that, by 2017, mobile users will be providing “personalized data streams to more than 100 apps and services every day.”

With desktop use (and ad revenue) shrinking and mobile ad performance not going as expected, Google had to do something. And do something it did.

Google’s solution to the mobile ad performance issue.

First, Google massively increased its pay-per-click rates for advertisers—going up as high as 25% in the past two months.

Secondly, it introduced Mobilegeddon on April 21, a move designed to force mobile advertisers to make their websites mobile-friendly in order to show up in Google searches on mobile.

This is not going to be easy for small businesses. The Washington post says only one-fifth of small businesses have a mobile-friendly website, an not all small businesses have the resources to re-build and maintain their new mobile-friendly websites. However, this is the brave new world of Google and mobile and we will see what happens!

Happily, by the time April 21 came around, Google said there were 4.7% more mobile friendly websites than when they announced Mobilegeddon two months before.

What to do if your business does not have a website yet.

If you are a small business and you don’t have a website yet, learn all you can about your options before you start. Though many companies do this, you don’t need to create a second website for use on mobile – you can simply make your desktop website responsive. Google offers a mobile SEO (search engine optimization) guide for making a site mobile friendly.

Even if it’s cheaper, don’t take your business online if your site won’t be mobile-friendly. All the statistics point towards a future with mobile, and it’s better to pay the money up front for a website that is going to offer you returns for a much longer time period down the road.

What to do if you already have a business website.

If you have an existing website, evaluate your site’s mobile-friendliness by entering your URL at Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test page. If your site comes up “awesome,” don’t break out the champagne yet. Enter your URL at Google Developer’s PageSpeed Insights page — you might pick up a hint or two on how to make your site load faster.

If your site falls flat on mobile friendliness, evaluate your options. If you can’t create an entirely new site, perhaps your site is still salvageable and can be adjusted to be mobile-friendly. We offer a special service for making your current WordPress website responsive – contact us for more information.

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