So it's happening: Google are changing their mobile search results to downgrade websites that aren't mobile-friendly. As a WordPress SEO company, we're working with our longer-standing clients to make their websites mobile-friendly. Here's a simple guide to help WordPress website owners to understand the change and how they can protect their mobile search engine rankings.
What are Google changing?
Google have announced that from 21st April 2015, they will be changing their search engine algorithm to favour mobile-friendly websites more strongly. This means that websites which are NOT mobile-friendly will almost certainly see a significant drop in their search engine position on mobile searches.
Should I be worried about my WordPress website SEO?
Yes, if you want mobile users to find your WordPress website. Google have said that the change will have a significant impact on the search results.
If you are not targeting mobile users then you can relax, as this change is only affecting mobile searches. Your WordPress website's search engine position will NOT change for people who search using a desktop computer. However, I recommend that you think carefully before adopting this attitude.
I speak with quite a lot of people who believe that no one is accessing their website from a mobile. When I look at the statistics for their WordPress website, I usually find that mobile users are more important than they think.
For example, this morning I checked the Google Analytics for 4 WordPress websites that we designed before responsive design existed (can you imagine?!). None of these sites are mobile-friendly, so it's surprising to see how many mobile users visited these WordPress websites in the last month:
- Website 1 - 25% of the visitors to this WordPress website were using a mobile or tablet.
- Website 2 - 39% of the website visitors were using a mobile or tablet.
- Website 3 - 43% of visitors were using mobiles, and a further 18% were using tablets - 61% in total.
- Website 4 - 79% of visits were from mobile users and 6% were using tablets - 85% in total.
Examples 3 and 4 in the above list are interesting because they are the websites for large companies who attract older customers. We designed their WordPress websites in the early days of responsive design and they advised that mobile wasn't important and they weren't bothered about making their websites mobile-friendly. The statistics really show how much things have moved on!
For each of these WordPress websites, the bounce rate (the number of people leaving the website straight away without clicking through to another page) was significantly higher for your mobile users compared to those using desktops. This shows that mobile users are trying to use these websites, but are being put off and leaving quickly. No wonder Google's algorithms are changing to favour mobile-friendly websites!
If you think that mobile users aren't important to your website, check your Google Analytics and find out. Log into Google Analytics and go to Audience > Mobile > Overview.
Is my WordPress website mobile-friendly?
There are several ways to check if your website is mobile-friendly, without having to ask a WordPress SEO company:
- Use Google's Mobile Friendly Test
- View your website from a mobile - is it usable? Can you use all the features on the website? Does the content fit the screen, or do you have to zoom in and use horizontal scrollbars to view the full content?
- If you're using a full-size screen, reduce the width of your web browser and watch what happens. If the layout of your WordPress website changes to fit each screen size then this means that you have a responsive design, which is ideal. If your website isn't responsive, do you have a separate mobile version of your website?
- Use Google Webmaster Tools to get a mobile usability report and identify any mobile usability issues. I've noticed that in the past few months, I have received more and more emails from Google Webmaster Tools regarding the older sites we have designed which aren't yet mobile-friendly. These sites have been registered with Webmaster Tools for years, which shows that Google are getting more and more strict about mobile usability.
If your site is not optimised for mobiles then you need help from a WordPress web design and SEO company such as ourselves.
How a WordPress SEO company can make your website mobile-friendly
Google have said that the only way to protect your mobile ranking is to ensure the website is fully optimised for mobiles and passes their mobile-friendliness tests. The best way to achieve this will depend on how your WordPress website is designed and what is wrong with it in terms of mobile usability.
Mobile-optimised WordPress website with minor issues
If your site has previously been optimised for mobiles but is throwing up minor errors on mobiles then you probably don't need any major work. Commission a web design or WordPress SEO company - possibly the agency who originally designed your website - to fix these specific problems, rather than starting again from scratch.
WordPress website designed using an off-the-shelf theme
If your website uses an existing WordPress theme which is not mobile-responsive then it's time to redesign it using a new theme. For the past couple of years, practically all new WordPress themes have been fully responsive. A new theme is a fantastic way to get a mobile-friendly website because the latest themes are responsive straight out of the box.
Your WordPress theme provides the design for your website. Changing themes means your website will look different. You may feel depressed at the thought of redesigning your website just to maintain your mobile SEO, however this is a good opportunity for you. If your website is using a theme that isn't responsive then it would probably benefit from modernisation. A new theme will achieve this as well as making it mobile-friendly and improving your mobile SEO.
Although you won't have full control over the design of the website, there are a huge range of styles available. Many themes are also very flexible and the colours etc. can be adapted as needed. We can help you to find a responsive WordPress theme that will work well with your existing logo and branding, but will refresh and modernise your site as well as making it mobile-friendly. It will look like a new and improved version of your old website.
A WordPress theme is only ever as good as the person setting it up. It's surprisingly difficult to make your WordPress website look as good as the theme demo site, so your best option is to get a WordPress SEO and web design company such as ourselves to upgrade your website for you. We'll also advise you on choosing a well coded theme that is well supported and will help to future-proof your website.
Custom WordPress theme website
If your website has a bespoke design and custom WordPress theme then you have several options:
- If you're happy with the design of your WordPress website:
- Commission a WordPress development and SEO company to recode your existing theme to be responsive. This involves making the theme responsive and adding the styling for the different layouts/screen sizes. This is a good option if your theme is relatively recent and well coded.
- Create a new custom WordPress theme based on your original designs, and code it to be fully responsive. This might be a good option if there are issues regarding the quality of your existing theme, or if you'd like to rewrite it using a web framework such as Foundation or Bootstrap which use a responsive grid and will create the responsive layouts automatically.
- If you'd like to redesign your website as well as making it mobile-friendly:
- Commission a designer to create a bespoke design for the website, and have these converted into a responsive custom WordPress theme
- Redesign the website using an off-the-shelf theme (see previous section)
You will need a WordPress SEO company with experienced WordPress developers to provide any of the above services.
Keeping ahead of Google's change to mobile search
As you can see, Google are making a significant change that will make a big difference if your website is not mobile-friendly. I hope this article has helped to guide you through the options and make the best decision for the design and SEO of your own WordPress website. We're a full-service WordPress SEO, design and development company and would love to work together to make your website mobile-friendly. Get in touch for a free WordPress web design quote or to discuss the options.
The time to act is now, as your website will drop in the mobile search results from 21st April. If you miss the deadline then it's not the end of the world. However every day that your website is not mobile-friendly after 21st April is potential lost business.