Well, Google is doing it again, but this time with fair warning — in February they announced that on April 21 there will be a significant algorithm change that will impact search traffic from mobile devices.

In their words:

“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.”

So, basically, “Mobilegeddon,” just one of the many monikers for this major update, will favor mobile-friendly sites when a smartphone is being used for searching and sites that aren’t mobile-friendly will consequently be pushed down in the rankings.

There does seem to be some confusion and contradictory opinions about who will be most affected by this update. Google has specifically said that desktop rankings will not be impacted. It appears that tablets will not be affected either (although this is yet another area of conflicting opinion). This should mean that if you get a high percentage of traffic to your site from mobile devices and it’s not a mobile-compatible site, you can expect to see a large drop in traffic. And, if most of your traffic is from desktops or tablets, you may not need to panic yet. Although, in a world where more and more people are attached, almost literally, to their smartphones, going mobile with your website is fast becoming a necessity, not an option.

Not sure if your site is mobile friendly? Go to www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly and type in your URL. If your site is mobile-friendly, you’ll get a ‘green light’ from Google. If your site has features that aren’t mobile compatible, you’ll get a ‘red light’ and Google will list the areas that need attention. Note, though, that this tool is only analyzing a single page—the exact URL you typed in—not your entire site. The Mobile Usability Report in Google Webmaster Tools will give you a more thorough review of what’s good and bad about your site from a mobile perspective.

Screenshot showing the results of a google mobile test

If you have Google Analytics installed on your website, you can also see what percentage of your traffic is currently coming from mobile devices by going to Audience > Mobile > Overview, then selecting Acquisition > Medium for the secondary dimension and looking at the mobile organic numbers. In the example shown below, 9.2% of the traffic to this site in the previous month was from organic search on a mobile device. Can you afford to let 9% of your traffic just disappear?

Google analytics example

With the number of people exclusively using their smartphones to look up things on the Web growing every day, if your business doesn’t already have a mobile site, building one should at least be at the forefront of your strategic marketing plan. If you’ve been on the fence about whether it’s worth the expense of building a new website or making your current site mobile-friendly, now is the time to get off that fence on the mobile side.

A responsive site built in Drupal or WordPress, two of the most popular content management systems, is a very user-friendly solution. Responsive design is Google’s top recommended mobile-friendly option and since that means a single site (one URL) that automatically ‘responds’ to various screen sizes, it not only provides an optimal experience to users but is also easier for the site owner to maintain than having two sites (two URLs) that need to stay in synch.

This update should really not come as a surprise to anyone since Google’s goal is to deliver the best search results to its users; if those users are on a mobile device and your site isn’t mobile friendly, it just won’t cut it. Mobilegeddon might just make that point on your bottom line…