What Google’s new mobile friendly algorithm means for you

Howard Lake | 17 April 2015 | Blogs

From 21 April 2015, charities could see their sites fall down Google mobile search rankings as the search engine expands its use of website mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.
36% of all searches in the ‘Donations and Charitable Giving’ sector are now on mobile devices and this percentage is forecast to continue to grow. By changing its algorithm Google expects to help users discover more mobile-friendly content, making it more important than ever for charity websites to have the ‘mobile friendly’ label on Internet search results.
However, a step change is needed in the way charities market their brands and become more accessible for mobile device users. When we surveyed 129 charity websites for our whitepaper, we found that almost 70% do not have a responsive website. While the benefits of having a responsive website are numerous, this doesn’t equate to mobile friendliness in Google’s eyes. We therefore retested the 129 sites using the search engine’s ‘Mobile Friendly Checker’ and found that an astonishing 61% failed the test!
“36% of all searches in the ‘Donations and Charitable Giving’ sector are now on mobile devices”
It is clear that the vast majority still has much work to do to turn their websites into mobile friendly tools that can increase visibility and in return drive up conversion rates. Charities who fail to act may quickly notice that mobile traffic begins to drop as their name disappears down the mobile search rankings from 21st April.

So, what can your charity do?

Google’s Mobile Friendly Checker will provide feedback on problem areas; quite often improvements are needed on some or all of the areas below:
• Avoid software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash – if your website relies heavily on such technologies consider modern web alternatives. The involvement of your web design agency is probably necessary;
• Use text that can be read without the need to zoom in – you are likely bound by style guides but set your font sizes to scale properly within the viewing area (viewport);
• Place links far enough apart so that users can easily tap the one they want – correctly size and space buttons and navigational links that suit the mobile audience. This can be achieved without large-scale changes to website design;
• Prevent your site from blocking search engine access to your CSS and image resources via robots.txt – robots.txt files are placed at the root of your site to indicate those parts you don’t want accessed by search engine crawlers. These are easy to remove to make the site easier to ‘read’.

How to move to responsive website design

Elastic stretch - by Africa Studio on Shutterstock.com

Responsive design ensures content fits any device or size screen appropriately. Photo: Africa Studio on Shutterstock.com

Then of course there is the option to go for a responsive website design, which means that content is automatically resized according to screen size. As a general rule, it is impractical to convert an existing non-responsive HTML website to a responsive one. The most straightforward route would be to start with a completely new site, and once finished, migrate content across, assuming the new site is on the same Content Management System (CMS) as before.
If your charity is on a popular CMS such as WordPress or Drupal, then another viable option is to purchase a pre-built responsive ‘theme’ and swap it over. This keeps the existing site’s content but merely changes its looks.
There are pitfalls with this approach, however, as issues can arise with plugins or content elements that don’t fit with the new template. Always try out a new theme on a development site first, never on a live site! You are wise to enlist the help of a capable web developer who understands the CMS and the importance of development sites and device/browser testing prior to pushing the ‘live’ button.
The future is mobile and charities that have invested in this part of their technology infrastructure will be rewarded with higher search rankings. If your charity is still playing catch-up then now is the time to review and update the entire mobile experience, as well as future proof it for other algorithm changes that are sure yet to come.
Jonathan Moore is SEO Group Head at the equimedia Group. equimedia works closely with a range of charities on their digital strategy to attract, engage, convert and retain donors. The agency recently published the Charities missing out on £millions whitepaper.
Main image: responsive design by MPF Photography on Shutterstock.com

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