The old way of doing things

Until last year, having a “mobile-friendly” site simply meant that your content was capable of loading on all mobile devices.

That meant no Flash and no broken elements on mobile.

Because of this, many companies chose not to have a mobile site at all, and among those that did, most just redirected to the homepage of a mobile-specific site.

Those days are gone.

Responsive web design

With the emergence of responsive web design, mobile-friendly has quickly shifted to mean sites that dynamically change to fit to any device and any screen size on demand without having to use a separate mobile site – all with the use of CSS styles.

This rapid shift is great for users, but for companies that had new non-responsive sites built in the last few years, a recent update to the Google algorithm is going to leave them in a world of hurt.

Penalization for sites with bad mobile design

Google announced this month that sites with poor user experience on mobile will be penalized in mobile search results.

They specifically called out sites that redirect all pages to the mobile homepage.

N1 redirects

Photo courtesy of Search Engine Land.

This is terrible user experience. Consider this: if I do a search for a 2013 Kia Optima, and I click a link that should lead me to a page about the 2013 Kia Optima, do I want to be redirected to the mobile homepage for Kia? No! I want to be sent to a mobile page specifically about the 2013 Kia Optima.

Google wants that, too, and this new penalty is aimed at ensuring that.

Beyond this, though, they also implied that other usability factors, such as strong readability on mobile, will help rankings.

The mobile usability penalty in the wild

I’ve already seen examples on mobile of responsive websites outperforming the non-responsive sites that general rank on desktop searches.

When we did a search for “Dallas Lap Band,” these were the top ten results. Next to each result, the status of responsiveness is listed:

  1. – responsive
  2. – responsive
  3. lapbandsolutions – not mobile-friendly, Flash on homepage
  4. – not mobile-friendly
  5. – not mobile-friendly
  6. – not mobile-friendly
  7. – not mobile-friendly
  8. – responsive
  9. – responsive
  10. – not mobile-friendly

As you can see, there’s a good mix of non-mobile friendly listings toward the top.

The mobile results are a bit different:

  1. – responsive
  2. responsive
  3. not mobile-friendly, Flash on homepage
  4. not mobile-friendly
  5. not mobile-friendly
  6. not mobile-friendly
  7. responsive
  8. responsive
  9. not mobile-friendly
  10. not mobile-friendly

The important thing to note here is the jump that and made above These sites, because of their responsive designs, got a boost against their competitors. One space may not seem like much, but it can make a world of difference in terms of click-through-rates.

Another thing that is important to note is the sites that aren’t mobile-friendly that maintained their rankings. Why did this happen? Most likely because of the keywords being a partial match to the domain names,, The other domains don’t have these partial matches. was only able to maintain their rankings through a massive amount of links resulting from their authority in the Dallas area.

The perfect opportunity to get an edge on competitors

Of the three sites listed above with responsive design, two of them got their responsive site in 2013. Right now, they have a huge leg up on their competitors. Now is the time for the others to get on the band wagon before they get left behind.

Dallas lap band surgery is just one example, but we’re seeing this across the board in all industries.

If your company doesn’t have a responsive design, you need to get on board.

Contact the web development team at Atomic Design & Consulting to find out how you can get responsive and get ahead of the curve.

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