It's been called the mobilepocalyse, SEO-pocolypse, mopocalypse, and most commonly, mobilegeddon. But let's call it what it is: it's yet another Google algorithm update that's going to start affecting your school's website starting April 21st. The update, in short, makes it easier for users to find web pages in search results that are optimized for their device. Pages that aren't device optimized will rank lower than those that are.
That makes it sound a little less intimidating, right? Not really.
To be blunt, there are no Band-aids for this: a responsive site is what Google expects.
And as time goes on, Google's algorithms will progress to favor mobile devices more as their popularity continues to grow. But let's not worry about that just yet. Here's what you need to know about this Google algorithm update right now.
Only Mobile Traffic is Affected
Using Google Analytics or Finalsite Dashboard, determine the percentage of your website visitors that are coming from mobile devices. Although only mobile traffic is affected by this algorithm update, you'd be surprised at how many of your visitors fall into this category.
The majority of Finalsite schools see a hefty portion of their traffic come from mobile devices: an average of 22-37% of website traffic comes smartphones, and an average of 11-18% comes from tablets — meaning some schools see up to 50% of their website traffic coming from mobile devices.
Being Responsive Doesn't Mean You're #1
Nope, you can't ditch your SEO strategy — sorry! Just because you're responsive, doesn't mean you'll be guaranteed a spot at the top of the search engine rankings or even on page one. The algorithm update simply favors your responsive pages in mobile search. Page load time, playable video content, and even text size play a role in where your website page ranks in search.
The Algorithm Works in Real Time
This algorithm runs in real-time. So whenever your site goes responsive, Google will pick up on the change and you will start to benefit from the change. Keep in mind that "real-time" means as soon as Googlebots crawl your page again. If your site has slow load times, it may take longer than expected.
The Algorithm Works on a Page-by-Page Basis
Sometimes during the redesign process, a school will launch a special microsite for a capital campaign, summer program, or a social media mash-up before the rest of the site is live. If you've done that this year, it'll work in your favor. This algorithm update runs on a page-by-page basis, meaning if you have 10 site pages and 5 are responsive, those 5 will still benefit from this update.
Going Responsive is Your Best "Survival" Tactic
Responsive design is Google's recommended site design and will favor your ranking for a few technical reasons.
First, since responsive websites assign a single link to a page, it helps Google's algorithms accurately assign indexing properties to the page at once, rather than needing to look for other mobile and desktop pages.
Second, Google's latest algorithm will penalize mobile sites with a slow load time — having a responsive design reduces load time since there isn't a redirect involved and content is already optimized for the device.
Lastly, it makes it easier and more efficient for Googlebots to crawl your site, making it easier for Google to index more of your site pages and content (and that's great for SEO!).
Take the mobile-friendly test to see how your site scores with Google. Currently, Finalsite responsively-designed websites are passing the mobile-friendly test with flying colors. Our fixed-width sites with a mobile redirect for the homepage are passing, but only the homepage — not all interior site pages.
Not happy about the results of your test? With our new CMS, Composer, you can have a brand new, responsive design in as little as 60 days. Every website built using Composer is 100% mobile friendly and responds to every screen size — which means you'll be guaranteed to pass Google's mobile-friendly test.
A PPC Campaign Can Help
While Google can penalize non-responsive sites in search, it can't have the same effect on PPC ads. If you're in the redesign process and don't want to lose your search engine presence, run a PPC campaign that links to a mobile-friendly page to keep your school's name present in search.
A Mobile Website Counts (Kind Of)
If you can't afford to start a redesign project just yet, a mobile website may be a good interim solution until you're ready to begin. The major downside to mobile sites is that they have a different link, less content, different navigation, and other mobile-only options, none of which will help your rankings. They also don't maintain your school's brand or look and feel of your website the same way responsive design does.
In short: even though they're still going to pass the mobile-friendly test, Googlebots will have a harder time crawling your site, which affects your ranking, and your mobile visitors won't enjoy the same great user experience they would on a desktop.