Calling Google's search algorithm update, which boosts the ranking of mobile-friendly pages in mobile search results, "mobilegeddon" may be overstating the potential loss of web traffic for sites that aren't responsive – able to adapt to mobile devices – or aren't specifically designed for mobile devices.
Though websites that aren't mobile-friendly can expect to rank lower in mobile search results, they can be fixed. Chances are, however, that will take time and money.
Most major websites are already mobile-friendly. A survey published in April by SEO firm Searchmetrics found that only 16% of the 100 domains with the highest search ranking are not mobile-friendly. TechCrunch claimed 44% of the Fortune 500 websites aren't ready for mobile search.
Wikipedia.org is the highest-ranking laggard. According to Google's mobile-friendly test, Wikipedia.org fails because links on its pages are too close together, making for a suboptimal mobile experience. The National Institutes of Health website, nih.gov, also fails the test.
In a blog post explaining the change, Google's Takaki Makino and Doantam Phan stress that the company's search ranking scheme depends on a variety of signals. "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," they wrote.
The companies most affected by Google's algorithm change are likely to be SMBs. A year ago, a study conducted by Hibu, a local directory and advertising provider, found that 59% of SMBs have websites that are not mobile-friendly.
Sarah Dryden, SEO and social director at Path Interactive, a New York-based marketing and design firm that provides search engine optimization (SEO) services, said in a phone interview that while "mobilegeddon" was hyperbolic, the shift in Google's algorithm is significant.
"I think it's a big deal because it represents a fundamental line drawn by search engines," said Dryden. Google, she said, doesn't want to serve experiences to users that aren't mobile-optimized. "This has made the conversation with clients a lot more clear-cut."
Most of Path's clients already have responsive websites, said Dryden.
Asked about the cost to convert an existing website to be mobile-friendly, Dryden said it's difficult to generalize because the Web development space is so varied. But for a small business' basic site, she guessed it might cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, and take between 40 hours to 150 hours of design and development time, to convert a legacy website into a mobile-friendly (responsive) one.
The urgency of making a website mobile-friendly depends on a company's industry, Dryden said. She pointed to a client that sells electrical components online to other businesses. Less than 10% of that company's online traffic comes from mobile devices, she said. "For that sort of site, the shift is less impactful," she said.
While mobile traffic is increasing across the board, said Dryden, the increase is not equally meaningful to every company. For some clients, she said, mobile traffic is growing at a rate of 2% annually. For others, it may be more like 20% to 50%.
According to comScore, smartphones and tablets together account for 60% of time spent consuming digital media, and 21% of Millennials no longer use desktop computers to go online.
The mobile future is here. It's just not yet evenly distributed.
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