Google is going mobile. After years of gently encouraging webmasters and business owners to adopt a mobile-first approach, Google has made the bold decision to makes it main search index for mobile users.
When Google rolls out this major search update, it will no longer rank websites that are not properly optimised for mobile devices. If your website is too slow for mobile, unresponsive, or just fails Google’s mobile friendly test on a relatively minor issue, you may find a that you suffer a rapid and dramatic drop in search traffic.
This is likely to be the biggest shake-up in the search results since the first Panda and Penguin updates were rolled out in 2011 and 2012. Many websites have still to update to a mobile friendly platform, and those that fail to do so before Google updates its search engine may lose a significant amount of traffic. If a website is considered by Google to provide a poor user experience on mobile, it might lose all of its Google search traffic.
Mobile Only Index
At the moment Google has only one search index, which is then organised and subdivided with vertical search, integrated search and various other features that control and order content. It is thought that when Google launches the new mobile-first search engine, it will actually run two parallel search engines to start with, but by default, the “mobile friendly” search index will probably be shown – we are still awaiting the final details.
It is Google’s belief – a belief grounded in hard statistics – that in the very near future most searches will be conducted on mobile devices. Fewer people are purchasing desktop PCs and laptops – soon computers as we know them will be consigned to academic institutions and offices. Home computing is all but dead already, with the arrival of smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs, there is little need for the average consumer to purchase a large, cumbersome desktop PC.
Currently there are two main approaches you should consider. First and foremost, you must build a website that is fast and responsive. How fast is fast? Google’s most recent recommendation is that a site should load within two seconds – although Google goes on to point out that they aim for 500 ms. Studies have shown that if a page takes more than three seconds to load on a mobile device, around 50% of users will hit the back button and look for a better site.
Because there is now a huge variety of mobile sizes and resolutions, a responsive site is needed. This is a website that will automatically fit any screen size and provide a fully accessible experience, with easy to read text, clear navigation and fast loading images. With modern content management systems such as WordPress, this is actually relatively easy to implement by an experienced web developer.
The second option is to develop and AMP version of your website. AMP is a new HTML format that sees web pages stored on cloud servers so that Google can display a cached version when it is selected in search. These pages load in around half a second and can provide a better user experience. However, it can be difficult to create good quality ecommerce pages, and some business owners have already reported that AMP pages tend to see much lower sales than standard HTML pages.
When Will It Happen?
Google never gives a date on these developments, but Google’s webmaster spokesperson, Gary Illyes, said that it would be within months. Google has a habit of launching major search updates during the “holiday season” that runs between late November and Christmas, much to the annoyance of retailers the world over, so we would not be surprised to see this update before the New Year.