The one innovation you cannot afford to postpone

For the next six weeks, forget everything I’ve told you about innovating with native ads, podcasts, enewsletters, new events, data-driven launches, esingles or building up your video inventory. 

Drop everything.


Because Google has thrown down the gauntlet on responsive mobile sites: As of 21 April, be responsive on mobile or be irrelevant.

I am not exaggerating. 

Creative Commons (Creative Commons)

Clear the decks to focus on making your website mobile-friendly by Google’s April 21 deadline.

On February 26, the internet search giant issued an unprecedented advance warning of a change in their algorithm that determines their mobile search engine results pages (SERP). Google also painted an equally unprecedented and dire vision of the consequences of not complying with the requirements of the new algorithm. 

The Google announcement is so unusually blunt, it’s worth repeating word-for-word:

“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.”

That is not like a meteorologist warning of a spot of rain this weekend. This is a full-fledged hurricane warning. SEO experts called the announcement “game changing”.

As of 21 April, it’s a safe bet that mobile-friendly sites will see a dramatic boost in their mobile SERP ranking and, by contrast, non-responsive sites will experience a dramatic drop (certainly off the first page of search results).

It’s worth noting that this algorithm currently affects only mobile search results. But SEO commentators either never believed that mobile-friendliness didn’t affect desktop SERP rankings, or they are convinced it won’t be long before it will. So, being mobile-unfriendly could prove to be a double whammy.

For those of you who believe you have a responsive site that will pass Google’s muster, it would be very wise to test your assumption. Find out what Google thinks of your site here.

Fortunately, for those of you without a responsive design mobile site, Google is giving you six weeks’ advance notice (in the past new algorithms were discovered only after the fact when search engine results suddenly, and apparently inexplicably, changed, usually for the worse).

Google is also giving you sluggards a break in that:

The new ranking will be in real-time so you can change your status to “mobile-friendly” almost the minute you make your site responsive (if you miss the 21 April deadline, it’s not the end of the world if you go responsive shortly thereafter)

The new ranking will be applied in a page-by-page fashion so you don’t have to make your whole site responsive on 21 April. This is especially helpful if your site has pages that might be very difficult to convert.

Google is actually trying hard to help publishers become mobile-friendly. Google added the “Mobile Usability Report” to its Google webmaster tools. That report helps webmaster identify mobile site problems unique to your pages. Google also created a Mobile Friendly Testing Tool which will analyse individual URLs and deliver a report telling you if that page is mobile friendly or, if not, what’s wrong.

In other words, no one can say they were blindsided or left to fend for themselves.

So, clear the decks and put all hands to work creating your responsive design website. Or start exploring another line of work outside of publishing.

More from John on how to tell if Google thinks your site is mobile-friendly.

Subscribe to FIPP’s monthly Innovation newsletter (free). Further information from Helen Bland

Creative Commons license photo courtesy of Rob Shenk.

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