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The Non-Techie’s Guide to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Update

By Mary Owusu


April 21 is a day that lived in infamy (or glory) for many websites, as Google updated its criteria and began ranking mobile-friendly websites higher. Google warned that websites that were not mobile-friendly would see their rankings either drop (lose their spot to a competitor) or disappear entirely after April 21. Many dubbed the update Google’s Mobilegeddon. 


Here are the questions you need answered to understand Mobilegeddon.


Will this affect how my website ranks on a desktop computer? 

No. The change will only affect how your website ranks when the searcher is using a mobile device. That’s because Google uses different formulas for mobile rankings and desktop rankings. The change is only being made to the mobile ranking formula.


Why is Google doing this?

Google says the change makes it easier for users to “get relevant, high-quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”


How critical an issue is this? 

Google makes more than 500 changes to its algorithm each year. Most of the changes lead to very slight nuances in rankings, and therefore go unnoticed by a majority of businesses. However, a handful of times each year, Google makes major changes to its algorithm. Oftentimes, these major updates are implemented on a rolling basis (country-by-country) allowing unaffected countries some time to learn about the impact and fix any issues before the rollout reaches them. 


Not the case for the mobile-friendly update. 


It’s a major change and will have immediate global impact. Google itself has stated that the effects of the update will be significant, and will affect smartphone searches in all languages worldwide. 


Considering the fact that 91 percent of small-business websites and 44 percent of Fortune 500 business websites are not mobile-friendly, Google’s update is sure to shake up many businesses. 


How do I know if my website is mobile-friendly?

Generally speaking, when viewed on a smartphone, a website that is not mobile-friendly either appears cut-off or looks like a tiny, zoomed-out version of your desktop website that requires pinching-in/out to read the content.


To test whether your site is mobile-friendly, follow these easy steps:


(1) The 5-Second Browser Pinching Test

Open up your home page in a browser on your computer. Then, using your mouse, drag-in the right side of the browser window until you cannot drag it anymore. See images below.




If your home page appears like the image on the top — you can see the page in its entirety, nothing appears cut off, elements on the page stack beautifully — your home page is mobile-friendly.


If, however, your home page appears like the image on the bottom — the page appears cut off, you have to zoom in/out to see the whole page — your home page is not mobile-friendly.


Do this test for other pages within your website to determine their mobile-friendliness. The key is to check the mobile-friendliness of the pages that are a part of your website’s success paths. 


(2) The 30-Second Google Mobile-Friendliness Tool Test

Google has a tool ( that anyone can use to test the mobile-friendliness of any web page. It’s very easy to use and delivers a verdict in about 30 seconds.


Again, besides your home page, be sure to do this test for other pages within your website to determine their mobile-friendliness.


Here’s the caveat about the two non-techie testing options above — sometimes they don’t catch everything.


That’s where Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) comes in. Using GWT to test whether your website is mobile-friendly takes only about 5 minutes. The test checks your entire website (instead of you testing a page at a time) and provides a more conclusive answer.


Here’s where it gets a little techie — you first have to set up a GWT account, and that set-up may require some help from your web or tech team. 


If my website is not mobile-friendly, how easy is it to optimize? 

Making your website mobile-friendly can be a small or large task, depending on the platform on which it is built. For websites built on popular platforms such as WordPress, Joomla, Blogger, Magento, there are hundreds of mobile-friendly templates (also known as themes) available that can be implemented on your website in a relatively short amount of time — a few hours to a few days.


For websites built on proprietary platforms or no platform at all, the optimization process will be more involved and take more time. Also, the size of a website (regardless of the platform it’s built on) can also affect the amount of effort required for the mobile optimization. Google’s mobile team has a guide ( available to help with the process. That ranges from testing the mobile-friendliness of your website to providing instructions on how to create a mobile-optimized website. 


The bottom line is the number of people who attempt to visit your website using a smartphone will naturally go up every year. That’s due to the accelerating rate of adoption and usage of mobile devices worldwide — for both B2B and B2C organizations. So even if it requires a significant investment, you should see the payoff in investing in a mobile-friendly site regardless of industry. 


What is an example of how this change might affect a business? 

Suppose your business name is ABC Company, you are a manufacturer of widget services, and you have a website that is not mobile-friendly. Now suppose that before April 21 if you Googled ABC Company or widget services on a smartphone, you ranked on the first page of Google results.


After April 21, you may have found that for searches done on a smartphone, your ranking for both of those terms either moved below page 1 or disappeared entirely from Google’s results. 


Don’t panic

It’s important to keep in mind that although the Google update may affect your rankings, it may not actually affect your business. You only have cause to panic if your company is already generating valuable business (revenue, sales, leads, donors, etc.) from your website’s mobile traffic. And not just any mobile traffic — the kind that landed on your website after doing a Google search on a smartphone (tablets won’t be affected by this update).


How will you know if your website is already generating valuable business from mobile search traffic?

This is a question that requires a look at your website’s analytics.


Investigating the business impact of your current mobile visitors is the key. Here’s how:


- Determine what aspects of your website touch your business. Do you use it to generate leads, publicize upcoming trade shows, announce new product launches, get information to the media, drive in potential employees, sell products, boost engagement on your social spaces, etc.?


- Identify the pages of your website that drive those business touches. These are your success paths. For example, if one of your business touches is completing a lead form, then a success path for that will be your lead form page itself, plus any page or set of pages that links to it.


- Determine whether or not your success paths are mobile-friendly. Follow the approach above.


- If your success paths are not mobile-friendly, don’t worry. The key is understanding how many mobile users are currently flowing through your success paths and how many of those users landed on your site because of a Google search. If these numbers are relatively low compared to your overall website traffic, you can breathe easy for now. The changes on April 21 had little immediate impact on your current business. 


But that’s no reason to put off building a mobile-friendly website. Mobile traffic is growing daily for every website in the world, including yours.        


Mary Owusu is director of analytics in the Buffalo office of Syracuse–based Eric Mower + Associates, Central New York’s largest advertising, marketing, and PR firm.



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