Every year for the last 5 years, many website programmers and marketing guys have tried to say "this is the year mobile websites will take over," but we've all been wrong. I was so wrong when I said 2010 would be the year of the mobile website; back then, it was just the year of the mobile website hype.
Mobile marketing and mobile websites had to go through a few stages of evolution to get to where we are as of today. As smartphones really started to gain popularity 5 years ago, so did the market for mobile apps.
I remember attending my first Mobile Marketing Summit in New York City in the spring of 2011 and listening to the heated debates over the need for every business to create a mobile app instead of just creating a mobile website. Perhaps it was that same debate that helped stall the adoption of mobile websites.
Now that a few years have passed, we now know that people are fatigued by downloading mobile apps that they might only use once. Additionally, not everyone can afford a smartphone with 64GB or 128GB memory.
In other words, the mobile website is the winner in the debate of whether or not a small business should use a mobile app or a mobile website.
In 2014, there were several sources reporting that mobile traffic now accounts for more than 50% of all internet usage. You can see those reports here, here, here, here, and here.
According to my own tracking, the retail jewelry industry experienced a 51.41% mobile usage in December 2014 for smartphone and tablets combined.
When Google Webmaster Tools started reporting mobile compatibility information in 2014, a lot of us SEO experts realized it was the heralding of upcoming changes to the way Google ranks a website.
In early January 2015, Google started sending usability warnings to owners of websites that don't work well on mobile devices. In fact, I started getting those notices on January 13, 2015 for some of the sites I monitor.
I've given you all this background information to lead up to a very important, and official announcement that Google made on Friday, February 27, 2015: As of April 21, 2015, Google will start using mobile friendliness as a ranking factor.
It's extremely rare that Google officially announces what they will use as a ranking factor; they usually leave us all to guess. This announcement came during this Google+ Hangout video.
Google recognizes three different types of mobile websites:
1. Easy-to-manage responsive websites: These sites resize the same content to fit a mobile screen, but the images are always the same, and many times the text is too small to read.
2. Dynamic serving websites: These sites will sense a mobile device and will send a mobile formatted website to the device instead of a desktop formatted site. Font size and smaller images can be controlled in this situation.
3. Dedicated mobile sites; This is a secondary site, usually located at "m.domain.com" or "domain.mobi" that runs in parallel with the desktop site. This should be set up exactly the same as the dynamic site, in that it shows all the same information that's specifically formatted for the smartphones. Banks and larger-structure sites use this a lot.
According to the slide presentation in this video, the PageSpeed of the mobile sites will be part of the ranking calculations. Specifically, Google wants your mobile website to be fast, and they want you do achieve that by using content that is correctly sized for smartphones.
They want you to use images that are resized for smartphones rather than what you see on a desktop computer. Although they didn't say so in the video, they are implying that responsive website design is not the correct choice since it uses the same images for both desktop and mobile website versions.
Because of Google, I guess we can officially call 2015 the year when everyone starts taking mobile websites seriously.
Here's what you need to do now...
First, start planning your mobile website. Talk to your website developer and find out what it will take to get a mobile website implemented. This will cost money.
Second, check the statistics of your own website to see what percentage of visitors are using a smartphone. You'll specifically want to look at the bounce rate of those visitors. Non-mobile-friendly sites will usually have higher bounce rates and shorter visit durations. Google's mobile ranking announcement is their way of making you pay better attention to your smartphone customers.
At the time of this writing, I measured that 45.29% of visitors to retail jewelry websites are mobile users. That's down from the 51.41% high in December 2014. However, 45% is still a considerable number of customers who are using Google mobile search to find you.
As of April 21, 2015, Google will lower your mobile ranking if your website is not mobile friendly. This new ranking factor will only affect the way your website appears in mobile search. If you don't plan for a new mobile website today, you will eventually lose 45% of your website audience.
For those of you that don't act now...
I have a prediction for the websites that aren't mobile friendly. After April 21, 2015, the number of mobile visitors will start to decline as fewer people find you in mobile search results.
Google Analytics will show a drop in the percentage of mobile users and a higher percentage of desktop users. The change in numbers might trick you into thinking that you don't need to worry about a mobile website.
However, this also means your overall number of monthly sessions will decline, which will probably translate to lower sales.
The bottom line is that, even though implementing a mobile website will cost money, you need to think about the potential loss of 45% of your current sales, if you don't start working on a mobile friendly website now.