After an announcement earlier this year, the other day Google made official a “mobile-friendly” update to the way their search engine algorithms work. This is important.

Granted, words like “algorithms” can tend to elicit an immediate groan from many of us, as the expectation that an annoyingly technical explanation is on its way immediately sets in. However, in all honesty, this one isn’t so bad. We’re gonna take a few words to talk about the responsive design philosophy behind Google’s big update, and why and how this update is going to affect as many as over 40 percent of existing Fortune 500 websites — and why it should affect your small business’s web strategy going forward, too.

Responsive Design: What Is It?

Responsive design is a website design principle that ensures a website is “mobile-friendly,” a.k.a., displays nicely on phones and tablets without scrunched up and unreadable text and such.

Responsive websites are true to their namesake in that they respond to their environment, which in this case is the screen they’re displayed on, be that a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Responsive design provides a fluid layout that automatically and seamlessly adjusts to the size of the screen it’s displayed upon. This lies in contrast to an adaptive (fixed width) design, which can only accommodate device sizes it’s been preprogrammed to play nice with.

A responsive design ensures that your small business’s website will look fancy on any device and at any size.

Responsive Design: Why Does It Matter?

Responsive design matters to your small business for a number of reasons:

  1. It provides a better user experience and increases conversion rates. It’s only logical: If a site is not responsive, some of your content will either not reach the user or will reach them in such a difficult-to-read fashion that it’ll leave the user (and potential customer!) frustrated. According to Google’s Think Insights on Mobile, a frustrated mobile user has a 61% chance of leaving your site for another. However, a user enjoying a positive experience is 67% more likely to buy a product or service. That’s big-time!
  2. It provides ease of management. In the past, companies would develop a separate desktop and mobile site. This resulted in twice as much effort, as both the desktop site and mobile site required different content and SEO (search engine optimization) resources. How unnecessary in an age of responsive design, right?  Responsive design simply lets you consolidate your efforts and more effectively manage your online presence.
  3. Mobile usage is on the up. We know this isn't a surprise to you, but there are some interesting stats all the same. Smart Insights provides a number of appropriately intelligent insights, but perhaps the most important statistic right now is that digital media consumption as of 2014 is now primarily done via mobile devices. That’s right. Mobile apps and mobile web are responsible for roughly 60% of all digital media consumption. Also, eMarketer notes that the number of smartphone users worldwide will eclipse the 2 billion mark come 2016.

Responsive Design: The Google Effect

Now that we have all the background out of the way, what does Google’s mobile-friendly update mean for mobile sites, responsive design, and your small business? Quite a lot, actually.

The most important takeaway from Google’s update: If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, your site’s ranking will be downgraded whenever someone makes a smartphone-based Google search. And of course, the easiest and most complete way to ensure this mobile-friendliness is through responsive design.

Google’s impetus for making this mobile-friendly update to its algorithms is not just to keep web surfers happy, but more importantly to help their bottom line as they face increasingly stiff mobile age competition from the likes of Facebook and other companies looking to break into the mobile ad market Google lords over. With mobile site visits growing each year, it’ll be wise for you and your small business to take the appropriate steps to ensure your bottom line is protected, too.

A few additional items to keep in mind regarding Google’s mobile friendly update…

  1. Only searches performed on smartphones are affected, not tablet-based searches.
  2. Only individual pages are affected, not whole websites.
  3. A number of tests are available for webmasters to gauge how mobile-friendly their current website is. Google provides both the Mobile-Friendly Test and the Mobile Usability report within Webmaster Tools.
  4. Once mobile-friendly changes are made to your website, Google will re-process your business’s pages and note all the changes automatically.

Wrap-Up

There you have it! Google’s “flipping of the switch” on their mobile-friendly update this past month is their “Hey, get your butt in gear!” message to webmasters and small business owners regarding their websites. It you want to maximize your mobile Google search ranking — and maximize your site’s $$$-making potential — you’ll want to update your site to a responsive design that plays nice with mobile devices.

Thanks for hanging with us here on #TechTuesdays! Until next week, here are some pretty examples of responsive sites bound to provide you with some inspiration.