The obvious backstory here is the rise in mobile devices not only to access the Internet, but in many cases the first point of access – while we’re out and about.

So, from April, Google will be ranking websites which are mobile-friendly higher on searches from mobile devices.

Whether Google should be taking this approach is a moot point. I’ve always felt that one of Google’s strengths was that it would rank popular or important websites highly, even if the design was poor and HTML coding terrible. After all, search is about content.

The shift here will be seismic, make no mistake. A great deal of websites just aren’t mobile-friendly – and it’s not always the developer’s ‘fault’. Smartphones have been with us for a good while, but it was only really with the iPhone that the mobile Internet began to really take shape. Steve Jobs championed HTML5 and rubbished Flash. Quite rightly.

But, the rub here is that at that point (2007) HTML5 really wasn’t ready for prime time. Far from being an approved standard, most desktop browsers didn’t support many of its features. (In fact, it was only complete in October 2014 – although most website developers had already adopted it by then.) Migration was, initially, slow. Well, companies do want their websites to run on as many browsers as possible – that’s not unreasonable.

So, plenty of websites designed even 3 to 4 years ago may not perform that well on mobiles. This is especially true of smaller businesses, whose websites are created on a budget and there’s little need for change. Which is a real shame, because when I’m searching for a local greengrocer, that’s the very type of website which is most likely to be downranked.

As I said, whether Google should rank according to the coding technology and practices used, rather than the content, is a moot point. It’s a tough call, but (as with Steve Jobs and HTML5/Flash) sometimes these tough calls are needed to create a meaningful shift. For sure, people will find the experience of searching on mobiles less frustrating – their top search results are far more likely to be mobile-friendly, so that’s less pinching, zooming and swiping while you’re on the hoof.

The reality that website owners have to deal with is simple. Websites are no longer accessed from just desktop computers and laptops. The first port of call to find a website is often a phone – and there’s no reason to assume that this won’t carry on increasing.

Google wants to do what it’s always done: present relevant results. In this case, Google’s decided that for mobile users, the website should be fit for purpose. So, those who want to retain their search engine rankings (and traffic) need to take this very seriously indeed. The change is global and affects all languages.

Although Google has been clear to say that the changes only affect mobile searches, I’d put money on the changes bleeding into desktop search results over time – or them becoming one and the same thing.

Equality has always been at the heart of the Web and I can’t say that I don’t feel uncomfortable that this change will squeeze out quite a number of small businesses – but ultimately, those websites were coded for a world which is ceasing to exist. And Google is pushing for the next one.


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