In case you haven’t heard, there is a deadline pending. And if you own a website, this has everything to do with you. Here’s how to avoid being slapped by Google’s next update.
In case you haven’t heard, there is a deadline pending. And if you own a website, this has everything to do with you.
Google updates can be the bane of our existence. To some, when you say the word “Panda”, you feel a little shudder. And deservedly so because a lot of site owners got slapped pretty hard by Panda. I did as well. While I no longer own my original tech site, I well remember those days when I watched the traffic nose-dive after Google’s update.
And there’s been other updates since. And I hate to break it to you, but…
There’s another one coming. It starts officially on April 21st, 2015. The focus of this update will be mobile. Google announced a new algorithm change that will use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.
Should You Be Worried? Yes.
The impact of this update is going to be a biggie. It is a lot of the older sites which are going to get hammered the hardest. Those sites which were designed before mobile was a big deal and have not been updated since.
Truth be told, this update has been a long-time coming. Mobile web traffic has been growing steadily and is now a major component of overall traffic. Here at the Blog Marketing Academy, mobile devices account for about a third of all traffic. That is pretty substantial.
So, here are the people who should be the most worried about this:
- People with older websites who were not designed using modern web standards.
- People who have hand-coded their sites and perhaps didn’t keep the code as clean as they could have (or didn’t know how to)
- People who are using slower, cheaper web servers which slow down the performance of their site.
- People who have sites which are not mobile responsive.
- People who have sites built in Flash
- People who have their sites cluttered up with too much stuff, slowing the site down and making the mobile experience rougher.
And even if you don’t think you’re on that list, you should still check on things.
In fact, as some sites are kicked down a notch because they didn’t keep up with the times, it gives YOU the ability to actually jump UP in the rankings if you’re poised to do so.
So, let’s jump into how you can ensure that your blog is ready for the next update…
Step #1: Ensure Your Blog Is Mobile Responsive.
Some sites have dealt with mobile traffic by directing them to a completely separate version of their site. That’s not really a good idea. The modern (and proper) way to do this is to have a mobile responsive design.
Now, some people have gotten confused by this term. They pull up their site on a mobile phone and see that the site shrinks to fit the screen and they think they’re mobile responsive. No! That’s not what mobile responsive means! Responsive design means that your site will adapt to the size of the screen it is on. Not shrink, but adapt. Everything should still be easy to read. People shouldn’t have to finger pinch to zoom in on your site just to tap a button.
The easiest way to test if your blog is mobile responsive is to pull it up on a mobile phone.
If you’re on your desktop and you’re using the Chrome browser, it has a built-in simulator for mobile. Simply right-click anywhere on your site and select “Inspect Element”. Then, hit the little mobile icon in the lower left.
Then, in the top right, you’ll see a “Device” dropdown. Simply select a device you want to simulate and the site will resize to show you what it would look like. (Note: you may need to refresh to get the site to adjust).
As an alternative, you can also use the StudioPress online test for mobile responsiveness. Just enter your blog’s URL and you’ll automatically see what it will look like on different screen widths.
You can also use Google’s official Mobile-friendly test. Hey, if Google says your site is mobile friendly, you’re probably OK, right? 🙂
Now, what do you do if your site isn’t currently mobile responsive?
Answer: Re-design your site. You may be able to take an older design and finagle it to be mobile responsive, but that’ll probably be way more work than it is worth. Best bet is to just redesign the site.
The good news is that us WordPress users have a ton of options that are mobile responsive right out of the gate. I highly recommend StudioPress or any of their child themes. Just go pick one that suits you best and install it. Plus, you get the clean code that comes with the Genesis Framework and that will also help you field the next Google update.
(Note: This very site is powered by the Genesis Framework (aka StudioPress). I highly recommend it. This site started as their Education child theme, then it was modified extensively to the point where it is now a fully custom design, but still powered by the amazing Genesis Framework.)
Step 2: Speed Up Your Site
The practice of optimizing your site’s speed can easily turn into a trip down the rabbit hole, however it is still something we need to pay attention to. After all, mobile devices are still more sensitive to site speed. Even the fast 4G networks don’t compare (speed-wise) to a hard-wired broadband connection in our home. And devices on 3G connections will get it much worse.
So, speed matters. And we know that Google most definitely factors the speed of your site into your SEO rankings.
Courtesy of: Quick Sprout
So, speed matters.
First thing you need to do is speed test your blog. Head on over to Google PageSpeed and run a test.
Another popular speed test is Pingdom. They scored me at 71/100 when tested from a server in the Netherlands. In the settings section of this test, you can choose which server to test from. Typically, the closer the test server is to where your web host is located, the faster the load time will be. For instance, WPEngine is located in Texas. When I ran a test using the Pingdom server in Dallas, I got a score of 79/100 and a load time of 1.34 seconds.
So, I’m going to get a little geeky and do some performance optimization of the site, but there are some obvious things that any of us can do right away…
- Use a solid web host. I generally recommend Bluehost to most of my new bloggers, but there’s a reason I prefer (and personally use) WPEngine. WPEngine has a lot of the server performance built right in, including CDN. Of course, you have to have it enabled to do the job (and as I look here, I had the CDN turned off on my WPEngine account for some reason. Doh!)
- Content Delivery Network. If your web host doesn’t have CDN built in, then you can use a third-party like MaxCDN. (Watch: What is a Content Delivery Network?) I used to use MaxCDN myself until I switched to WPEngine and didn’t need them anymore.
- Reduce the number of plug-ins. Every plug-in you add to WordPress adds bulk. Plus, most plug-ins pull in extra resources that load up site-wide (that’s been a problem here at the Academy, in fact). First step is to simply de-activate and remove any plug-in you don’t really need. Secondly, consider adding plug-in profiles to your blog to control where and when plugins are enabled or not. (Read: A Simple Solution To Running Lots Of WordPress Plugins Without Sacrificing Blog Performance)
- Optimize Your Images. Images add a lot of bulk to the downloadable size of your site, and many images contain extra “payload” that doesn’t impact how well they appear on your site. Removing that payload will reduce file size. Check out WP Smush.it to optimize your images on your blog. (Note, Smush.It used to be free, however due to Yahoo discontinuing the service it relied on, you will be asked to subscribe to WPMU).
- Use W3 Total Cache. A really awesome plug-in if your web host doesn’t do all that stuff for you (Note: WPEngine users don’t need this plug-in).
With techie issues like this one, I know it is easy to feel alienated when you’re not the geeky type. It is easy to get immersed in all this terminology and not know how to get things done. And you don’t really want to hire anybody to do it.
For you guys, my main recommendation is to use the tools that do the work for you. It is a lot cheaper to invest into solid hosting and a solid theme framework than it is to hire somebody to do it all for you.
Step 3: Get A Head Start
As I said, the official launch date of this Google update is April 21st. However, if you make changes to your site to be more compliant with these changes, you need to get it done as early before the 21st as you can. And it helps to have Google crawl your site again before then.
So, if your site isn’t set up to weather this change (in other words, it isn’t mobile-friendly), then do this:
- Make the changes spelled out above.
- Trigger Google to crawl your site again so you’ll be set up before the 21st.
How do you tell Google to index your site? Like so…
- Go to Google Webmaster Tools.
- Select your site profile (if it isn’t already there, then be sure to add it)
- Click on “Crawl” in the left menu, then “Fetch as Google”
- Your URL should already be there, but you can also specify certain pages or directories. Probably best to just leave it set to your homepage.
- In the dropdown, select “Mobile: Smartphone”. Press “Fetch and Render”. “Fetch” simply means that Googlebot will try to contact the page and crawl it. “Render” takes the extra step of telling Googlebot to crawl and display the site as a regular browser would and give you an image of what Google sees.
- You’ll then wait for the render to take place.
- Press the “Submit to Index” button to tell Google to index the site.
If your site is already good to go, then you don’t really need to have Google re-index anything.
If your site is up to modern standards and you’re on solid hosting, you should be fine to roll with the next Google update. However, if your site is old, you definitely need to pay attention.
If your site was designed by a designer who thought aesthetics were more important than function, you may be at risk. Some designers are great at making things pretty, but not so great at using clean code. And it is possible they didn’t really consider mobile browsers.
If you are the do-it-yourself type and aren’t up to speed with modern web standards, then it is possible that that site you think is just fine is going to be dinged by Google. I’ve seen a lot of geeks hand-code their site and make their own images, but the only thing they think about is whether it looks good in their own web browser. They forgot to consider that a lot of our web traffic is on mobile now and it just works differently.
So, if you’re reading this before April 21st, get going on this. Time is of the essence.
And if you’re reading it after the 21st, this is still all stuff that you can do to improve your site. Then, just have Google re-index you.