Repent! The end is near. Or at least on its way.

by Tom Davis

Mobilegeddon is not the end for all of us.

Do I need a responsive website?Editor's note: This article is not meant to say you do not need a responsive website, it is only advising that you understand if you need to go to that expense right now. Eventually all sites will be mobile friendly or be marginalized to the backwaters of the Web.

The media has over-hyped Google's latest changes to their ranking algorithm in their usual manner. I am a particularly disappointed that the Wall Street Journal has joined with such a poorly written article.  WSJ normally has much more nuanced reporting. So, I would like to clarify a few things.

Responsive web design is the way to build websites today.

I am all for mobile ready sites. If you need one, call us now. We do this with every site we have built over the last couple of years. There is no reason not to build for mobile. But there are reasons why you may not need to spend a lot of money right now to avoid something that may not effect you immediately. 

As with all things, context is key.

An important thing to remember is that Google speaks in the context of all searches. That context may not be appropriate for your situation. I generally divide web traffic between consumer and business. But I am not sure what you call the searches I do on my phone while watching a movie at home and wondering "hey, its that guy, what other movie did we see him in?" It is a pretty useless search, but you might be surprised how accurately Google can answer a search like "movie about a family in australia with tow trucks". (The is a great movie.)

My point is, Google sees zillions of searches. In fact: 3.5 billion a day, all over the world.

If you are a retailer or a restaurant, this idea of mobile should not be anything new. Consumer websites have been seeing more than 50% mobile traffic for well over a year — and that traffic has been building quickly since the iPhone was introduced. Just a refresher, that was mid 2007.

In contrast, Business to Business websites are still seeing as low as 10% mobile traffic. Insurance brokers are seeing 10% tops. Construction materials suppliers might be as high as 25% mobile. So your mileage will vary according to your specific market. Just make sure you make an informed decision. Mobile traffic to you site is not hard to learn if you are using Google Analytics — or have a competent Webmaster who manages these things. (Once again... call us if you need one!)

The nuance that is being missed.

One of the more egregious rephrasings of Google's news was this sentence from the Wall Street Journal article:

"The new formula will give a boost in Google's "organic" search results to sites that are designed to look good on smartphones and penalizing those that don't."

This is actually what Google said (this is from today, although the original article in February stated something similar):

"We’re boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results."

Note that WSJ (and many others I have talked to) left out the "on mobile search results".  So if people are looking for a restaurant on their phones, and you are a restaurant. You need a mobile ready site.

But the reality is that people don't search for high speed industrial centrifuges on their phone. And those that might, are usually so hindered by the complexity of the product, that they do not convert. It is simply too complicated.

What about content?

Another aspect of ranking, among the other 200 signals Google uses to evaluate pages for search, is your content. I would bet that non-mobile-ready pages with good, focused content on a site with strong "authority" value would beat out bad content that is mobile ready. Never lose site of the fact that mobile usability is just one of their ranking factors.

Update: Google's blog post today makes this point:

"While the mobile-friendly change is important, we still use a variety of signals to rank search results. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal -- so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query. "

Am I right? Of course I am.

One more thing...

I am doubly disappointed in the WSJ for making this statement:

"Google changes its algorithm often, but this time it took the unprecedented step of warning sites in February that  the change was coming, and giving them tips on how to prepare."

This is not unprecedented. Google has made statements about algorithm changes several times before. They made a splash with their HTTPS adjustment and their Block Resources  adjustment. I am sure there are others. I have to hand it to Google, in some ways they are trying to be transparent. (note the words "in some ways")

In the end, I am not against mobile ready sites. After all, I would love to build you a mobile responsive site right now! I am just against making uninformed decisions in the heat of a panic.