In December, we said having a mobile-friendly website was essential to a successful SEO strategy in 2015. This is now more true than. Google announced last week that it is expanding on mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. To emphasize the importance of this, let’s look at an exact quote from the announcement. "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."
Google doesn’t typically make announcements regarding algorithm changes using phrases like "significant impact," and they don’t normally provide an exact date for when an algorithm change will occur. So, why did they do it this time, and what does it mean?
Go Mobile or Become Irrelevant
Google is providing a timeline to encourage those who haven’t already adapted their websites to mobile to begin making this transition. This means that you should work toward having a mobile-friendly website by April 21 because it is apparent that Google intends to reward mobile-friendly websites with better rankings in mobile search. Likewise, websites that are not mobile-friendly may very well experience a dramatic decline in mobile rankings.
Even prior to this announcement, Google’s intentions have been pretty clear, as it has made a strong push recently to encourage website owners to make their properties mobile-friendly. For example, Google added "mobile-friendly" labels to the mobile search results, sent website owners mobile usability warning notifications via Google Webmaster Tools (GWT), launched a mobile-friendly testing tool, and added a mobile usability report in GWT.
Up to now, having a mobile-friendly website has been a competitive advantage. However, with this announcement, I predict mobile-friendly websites will quickly become the norm as organizations try to stay relevant in mobile search. The competitive advantage will then be given to those who provide visitors with the best mobile-experience.
It is also possible that responsive websites will be given preference in Google Search over dedicated mobile sites. Google has long touted responsive design as its preferred mobile solution, because it believes responsive design provides a better user-experience and because it’s less prone to errors than dedicated mobile sites. You can see a great example of this in a recent article by Emily Alford, a reporter at ClickZ and SEW, where she and I discussed the issues AutoTrader is currently facing in Google Search because they rely on separate desktop and dedicated mobile sites, rather than a single responsive site.
In conclusion, this announcement eliminates any doubts regarding the beneficial treatment mobile-friendly websites will receive in the way of better rankings moving forward. If you don’t yet have a mobile-friendly website, it’s time to get to work.