Last month Google announced that they are making a change that would yield friendlier results to mobile searchers. The announcement in itself wasn’t that unusual. What was unusual is that they announced a date for the change – April 21st. With a specific date announced, it gave the opportunity for people to raise concerns. Is this a push to responsive design? Is it a big deal? The G5 team took a look at both questions.

Google provided the following for guidance:

According to Google, “if you’re a webmaster, you can get ready for this change to see how Googlebot views your pages:

  • If you want to test a few pages, you can use the Mobile-Friendly Test
  • If you have a site, you can use your Webmaster Tools account to get a full list of mobile usability issues across your site using the Mobile Usability Report.”

We took a look at a sample of our client accounts using the mobile-friendly test link above. Here is a result for a typical responsive site:

We also looked at a couple of mobile sites that are not responsive but have been optimized for mobile in other ways. There were no issues with these sites either. So while some headlines are touting this as a push to responsive, G5 clients who haven’t yet upgraded to responsive are showing no issues according to Google.

In spite of that, headlines are trying to make this release a big deal: “How Big is Google’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm? Bigger than Panda Or Penguin.” That certainly makes you wonder if you need to be concerned. Then you step back and see that there are still so many websites out there that are not either responsive or mobile-friendly, and you realize these are the likely target for this update because Google is seeking to create a better mobile experience for all of their users. Google even gives high visibility to some sites that create poor experiences on a mobile device. However, in the long run, supporting bad user experience on mobile is a risk Google does not want to take.

Could there be unintended changes in an algorithm change like this? Yes, there could. In a change this big, other parts of the algorithm may be affected, but we can’t prepare for that in advance because we don’t know.

What we do know is that responsive websites that are designed to convert and provide positive user experiences are a best practice. Sites that follow rules such as prominent CTA placement, a simple navigation, and inclusion of the phone number in the header will continue to outperform others in visitor to lead conversion.

It is quite possible this algorithm (and any unintended changes) will benefit G5 clients that have had mobile-friendly responsive sites for some time. The update is a few weeks away and we will continue to leverage our Google partnership to understand more.