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This is the Google police: make your website mobile-friendly or else

Aleesha Matharu | Updated on: 13 June 2015, 15:05 IST

When Google tweaks its algorithms, the internet has a freakout. And since there's nothing the web loves more than cat videos and end-of-the-world scenarios, when Google tweaked its search engine rankings at the end of April, 'Mobilegeddon' officially became a thing.

Here's the background: the world's most popular search engine decided to factor mobile friendliness into its algorithm for searches that originate on a smartphone. What that means? Havoc on the search rankings of sites still living in a desktop-focused world.

The panic may have been excessive, but the concern of content marketers is actually fairly legit.

According to a 2014 Advanced Web Ranking study, 71.33% of searches that show up on Google's first page of search results lead to organic clicks (and the first five results account for 67.60% of those). 'Organic' on the internet is even more desirable than in real life: it means this user came to you with no money or advertising involved. By the time you get to page 2 of the search results, clickthroughs drop to a shocking 5.59 per cent.

In other words, being pulled a few pegs down in Google's search rankings costs businesses hard cash. Run your own blog or business site? Here's what you need to know.

Put it in perspective

Headlines such as 'Will Google 'Mobilegeddon' wreak havoc on small business?' and 'Google is making a giant change this week that could crush millions of small businesses' aren't the best way to stay calm, but remember: you can optimise your site for smartphones anytime and almost immediately move up in Google's search results. The company had warned users as early as February that the tweak would be made in late April but fortunately there's no deadline to getting your act together. Which brings us to part two.

You still need to get your act together

According to CNN Money, 50% of all Google queries come from mobiles, so if you run something on the internet you want people to see, now would be the time to memorise 'mobile-first'.

The number is rising sharply. A study by Nokia Networks' MBit Index shows a 74% rise in mobile data traffic at the end of 2014 compared to the year's beginning.

So even if you're not seeing much traffic from mobile devices on your site currently, you definitely will in the future, so plan ahead.

Rely on Google's evaluation

So our site looks fine to you on a mobile device. But does Google think so? Google's Mobile Friendly Test not only tells you how friendly any website is, it also explains why ('text too small to read', 'links too close together', etc) and how to improve. It's a good litmus test, and since you usually blindly trust Google to provide you with the right answer, it's okay to trust them on this as well.

Understand what is, in fact, mobile-friendly

Simple principles, well executed. According to Google, your site is mobile-friendly if:

a) The text is easily readable without zooming.

b) The content on the screen is sized so you don't have to scroll horizontally.

c) The site avoids software that isn't normally supported by smartphones. Adobe Flash, we're looking at you.

d) Hyperlinks are spaced far enough apart for the user to click on easily.

Really good websites won't totally disappear

Yes, even if they're not mobile friendly. Although the update punishes sites that don't look work well on smartphones, content still matters. "The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal," Google writes. "So even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query."

Bottomline: Mobilegeddon is the ideal opportunity to reassess your website strategy: Google, after all, has more data about how users look for stuff online than you ever will. Not just for Google points, but to ensure you're curating the best possible user experience for your audiences and customers.

First published: 23 April 2015, 15:00 IST
Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

Born in Bihar, raised in Delhi and schooled in Dehradun, Aleesha writes on a range of subjects and worked at The Indian Express before joining Catch as a sub-editor. When not at work you can find her glued to the TV, trying to clear a backlog of shows, or reading her Kindle. Raised on a diet of rock 'n' roll, she's hit occasionally by wanderlust. After an eight-year stint at Welham Girls' School, Delhi University turned out to be an exercise in youthful rebellion before she finally trudged her way to J-school and got the best all-round student award. Now she takes each day as it comes, but isn't an eternal optimist.