Businesses across the nation went into a panic after Google announced that it would be updating its search algorithms to remove non-"mobile-friendly" sites from searches conducted on mobile devices. "Mobilegeddon" has now come and gone, and while its overall effect on SEO is still being debated, the fact remains that optimizing a site for mobile users is still an important step for anyone looking for online success.
A Rising Tide
A recent report by comScore found that approximately 29 percent of all online searches in the United States are done with a mobile device. While desktop searches still constituted the majority of online searches, the number of desktop searches actually declined from 2013 to 2014, while smart phone and tablet searches rose significantly.
For local searches, however, the numbers seem to tip dramatically into mobile's favor--a report by Local Search Association found that nearly 60 percent of searches regarding local business are done using a mobile device.
It's clear that mobile search will continue to rise in prominence. Indeed, Google is expecting worldwide search inquiries on mobile devices to surpass desktop searches this year--no doubt part of the reason that "Mobilegeddon" was announced in the first place.
Even though Google's mobile update did not prove to have the cataclysmic effect on mobile search rankings many feared it would, updating one's web offerings for an increasingly mobile audience is of high importance--particularly for local businesses that may not be considered as authoritative by the search giant. With smart phone penetration in the United States expected to exceed 80 percent of all cell phone users by the end of 2015, it's clear that mobile Internet use has become the norm, rather than the exception.
To facilitate this transition, Google has provided several tools to help Web page owners determine if their site is mobile-friendly. Google's Mobile-Friendly Test provides a quick and easy way for Web owners to identify potential mobile issues. Google also provides steps on how to fix mobile usability issues through Google Webmaster Tools accounts.
There are several options available for those who wish to upgrade their Web offerings to create a mobile-friendly site.
Responsive web design is an easy way to guarantee that a site will work well for both desktop and mobile users. Google has placed increasing priority on responsive web design in its algorithm updates, especially the recent "mobile-friendly" update. Other mobile optimization options--such as setting up parallel URLs for mobile sites--may create a functional mobile site, but will ultimately not help improve SEO as domain authority is split between mobile and desktop URLs.
For businesses hoping to remain relevant and still appear in mobile search results, investing in responsive design guarantees that a site will be mobile-friendly, because the flexible design automatically adjusts the content to the size of the screen being used.
"Responsive Web design is the easiest solution because you don't have to deal with redirects or expensive maintenance," explains Trevor Garner, Lead Designer + Developer at Fusion 360, a Utah-based web development agency. "It's better for SEO, and users get the content they want in the way that looks best on their device."
Implementing a responsive design eliminates several of the most common problems mobile users face when surfing the Web--namely, navigation and readability. Responsive design ensures that links and menus are an appropriate size that are easy to see and appropriately spaced to eliminate accidental clicks and other navigation errors. Text font is also resized so that horizontal scrolling and zooming are not necessary to read a page's content.
Another important aspect to consider when developing a mobile-friendly site is to eliminate the use of programs that are not compatible with mobile devices. One of the most commonly cited issues during Google's update period was Flash-based content, which is not compatible with mobile (HTML 5 is a recommended replacement). Optimizing images and other content to reduce page loading time can also improve a site's SEO.
It is clear that future updates to search algorithms will also stress mobile usability--as indicated by Google's main rival Bing's recent announcement that it will be introducing tagging and improving rankings for mobile-friendly sites.
Local business owners in particular would do well to ensure their sites are optimized for mobile users. "Mobilegeddon" may not have been as significant as expected when the algorithm arrived on April 21, but the fact of the matter is that as more and more consumers switch from desktop to mobile search, websites that do not become mobile-friendly will be left behind either way.
Kevin Johnson is a Digital PR + Social Media Writer for Fusion 360, a Utah-based digital marketing agency.
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