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Mobile websites expensive, but no longer optional

Google’s new, zero-tolerance policy for websites without a mobile-optimized view changes the question from if to how


Beginning April 21, Google will heavily favor websites with mobile-ready content in mobile search results. According to Google, whether or not your website is optimized for mobile devices will have a “significant” impact on your mobile search rankings.

Google's original announcement from February 26, 2015

The door is now open again

Google ranking have always been tight at the top. Once there, the increased traffic and exposure will often help keep you there. And it is critical to be there for your major terms. According to data from Moz from 2014, less than 6% of all clicks happen on the second and third pages, and nearly 68% happen within the first few results of page one.

For more progressive companies that have prioritized mobile, they will now be thoroughly rewarded. This is a great opportunity to break through to page one on the backs of more usable content. For many ecommerce, restaurant, and hotel brands, Google’s announcement is all the more important as mobile traffic becomes a larger piece of their total traffic.

No longer an “if” question, the “how” questions emerge

For me, this announcement is akin to a commandment from god above: thou shall not create another site without a mobile version! I am reminded of 2006, the year I found out that pants bought at Ross have serious defects and also a year where it was common to display text as an image, as browser support for custom fonts beyond Arial and Times New Roman was practically non-existent. Google hated this practice. Its robots couldn’t read the images, which were basically akin to captchas. People got wind of Google’s opinion and within a few years, text within an image went extinct, unless you were working in my college computer lab.

The question now is no longer “Should we create mobile site?” so much as it is how we do it. As with anything, there are several ways to approach the problem from varying perspectives of budget, time, and internal resources.

  1. Do we make the site adaptive or responsive? Adaptive refers to the practice of basically designing a different layout for set screen widths. Responsive refers to a site that fluidly adjusts to a browser’s width as the user or device resizes it.
  2. Do we limit the amount of content on the site to reduce the design burden and keep costs down?
  3. Do we design the site from mobile up? Typically, designers have designed a desktop version first and scaled that down to a mobile design. However, it’s growing more common to work in the opposite direction.
  4. Do we create and serve assets that are optimized for mobile devices? These smaller, faster files require less bandwidth and present a better experience, but are more time-consuming to create and for developers, more difficult to call.
  5. How many devices do we debug on? The more devices the better, but resolutions vary widely, especially across Android phones and tablets. Adding more than a few devices can balloon QA costs.

Except for the end-user, there's nothing about a mobile site that is cheaper or less burdensome. And that's okay.

Even if you develop a completely independent mobile site with limited content, you’re still increasing your creative and development burden. That said, with Google’s announcement, it’s now easier to justify that expense internally, whether it be with your overlords or yourself. If that doesn’t make you feel any better, know that the easiest decisions to make are those where we only have one choice!

Most companies have some kind of yearly website budget, and now that must really include a mobile website budget. Mobile is a major complication, albeit a necessary one. It falls well outside the definition of an enhancement to a current site, although some peddling low-cost phone sites will beg to differ. It requires a new set of development rules, more design work, and often a modified content strategy as well.  It’s always been this way. Now it’s just not an option.