April 21st, 2015 is about to become Judgement Day for millions of websites that are not mobile-friendly or still use Flash animation.
Google announced late on Febraury 26th, 2015 that search results will more heavily favor mobile-friendly websites beginning April 21st, 2015. Indexed apps will also be surfaced more prominently in search results for users who have that particular app installed on their smartphone or tablet.
Google Webmaster Trends representative Zineb Ait Bahajji said on March 17th that this mobile-friendly update would have a more significant impact than the Google Panda and Penguin algorithm updates did. Google Panda was a 2011 search algorithm update that penalized poor site content, while Google Penguin was a 2012 update that penalized spammy site backlinks.
From the Google Webmaster Central blog on February 26th, 2015:
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. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.
Flash sites are also due to get kicked in the teeth. Google has been labeling Flash sites that turn up in mobile search results with the ominous message Uses Flash. May not work on your phone since July of 2014. Flash animation does not render on iPhones, and has started to be replaced by front-end technologies like GreenSock, which work on all devices.
Doing The Math
It is estimated that 50% of all search queries occur on a mobile device as of December 2014, and that number is still rising. There have been more mobile devices than humans on our planet since October 2014, and those mobile devices are multiplying at a rate five times faster than the human population.
The writing has been on the wall for quite some time regarding mobile-friendly websites. Although Google has been suggesting that site owners start focusing on page speed and responsive (mobile-friendly) design since 2010, it looks like April 21st (aka Black Tuesday) will be a day of reckoning for websites that have ignored the warnings.
It’s Been A Long Time Coming
While Search Engine Land first reported seeing the Mobile-friendly tag in mobile search results in November 2014, the algorithm change has been in the planning stages for years.
Nothing has transformed the daily lives of more people since the creation of the internet than the smartphone. For most people, it is the first thing they pick up in the morning, and the last thing they put away before bed. Since a smartphone can travel with you everywhere, it’s no wonder that the sale of mobile phones that we have seen in the last six years eclipses the boom of personal computer sales that happened in the 1990s and early 2000s. No, eclipses is the wrong word. The rise of mobile is so pervasive that when comparing the two periods, the mobile sales of the past few years actually go off the chart.
Consider the apostle of multi-device design, Luke Wroblewski, talking about designing mobile-first in this talk from way back in 2011. Responsive design was a term that was only two years old at this point. The mobile age has only just begun.
What Does This Mean For You?
The table stakes for doing business on the web has been having a mobile-friendly website. Search engines are just telling you what their users are already telling them.
How Do I Know If My Website Is Mobile-Friendly?
Google has provided several resources to help you test your site.
- Get Started With Mobile-Friendly Websites
- Take The Mobile Friendly Test
- What Should I Think About When Hiring A Developer?
There Is No Spoon
I consider myself very lucky. I came into web design right about the same time that responsive design was becoming a thing. Every single client project that I’ve published on the web has been mobile-friendly. I believe it was easy for me to embrace it, because I didn’t have any preconceptions about what web design was or wasn’t to unlearn. I recognized right away that the web is a medium that is in constant evolution, and my job will always be about setting up my clients for the highest chance of success.
In other words, there never was such a thing as traditional web design and mobile design. It’s all web design. One label for many use cases.
If You Need Help
If you’re a business owner with an outdated, fixed width website, and all this is coming as news to you just now, I feel your pain — especially if you rely on search engines for customer acquisition.
But it is never too late to be proactive. Getting a responsive redesign for your website will make it easier for your customers to find you and the information they need on your website. Improvements to your mobile web experience will also improve your conversion rate on mobile, and help you sell more goods, and keep customers on your site longer.