"Mobilegeddon": What Does it Mean?
Google has a vested interest in making the web more usable on every device, and in April 2015 they updated their search algorithms to reflect this new reality. Because mobile search is so common now, Google will penalize sites that are not mobile-friendly in search results sent to mobile devices. Many website owners referred to this algorithm change as "Mobilegeddon" reflecting the fear of what might happen to their sites in mobile search results.
What exactly does Google mean by "mobile-friendly"? Your site should, at a minimum:
- Avoid mobile-hostile technologies like Flash and ActiveX
- Display text at a size that is easily readable across devices without zooming
- Size content to avoid zooming or horizontal scrolling
- Place links with enough spacing that tapping with a finger can be done easily and accurately
How Will This Affect My Nonprofit?
First, the good news. As a nonprofit, your site does have the advantage of being a .org, which tends to favor you above many other sites all things being equal. Also, if you are following our advice and have a page for every program, you'll be starting off ahead of the game.
However, if your site provides a user-hostile experience compared to your competitors on mobile, that could be a significant strike against you for anyone looking for your content on an iPhone, tablet or any other mobile device. And since that percentage will only continue to rise, your built-in advantages mentioned before will continue to shrink in importance over time, and you may soon start to see overall website traffic decline.
What Options Exist for "Mobile-friendly"?
Some people implement a true mobile version of their site, in addition to the existing desktop version. Typically this is accomplished by testing what type of device is accessing the page and redirecting the user if necessary to a completely different, mobile-optimized version of the page.
This approach has been around for a while and can be used effectively, but is often somewhat complex to manage. In addition to having more content to deal with, you also have to maintain logic in your site that can respond to changes in browsers and devices over time, which adds overhead. If you use a mobile-specific template in a content management system (or CMS, e.g. WordPress or Drupal) those complexities might be less of an issue.
Responsive Web Design
Over the past few years, responsive web design has become the de facto approach for building a single site that transitions seamlessly between desktop and mobile browsers while requiring only one version of the site's code. This strategy involves changing things like font size and page layout dynamically, based on the actual dimensions of the page at any given time. This is the approach that we would recommend all nonprofits consider.
Does This Mean I Need a New Website?
Definitely not! Most modern website CMS platforms offer a plethora of responsive templates to choose from, making it a cost-effective and relatively straightforward approach to supporting mobile. Depending on your system it is often a simple configuration change to update your template and drastically improve your site's mobile experience.
Even if you use a custom CMS, or perhaps created a bespoke site with a developer, the strategies for implementing responsive design are still fairly straightforward to any good web developer (although for a large site, the cost to implement it could definitely add up quickly). In that case, the decision might be more complicated, and you'd have to weigh the costs and benefits of updating your existing site vs. developing a new version with mobile in mind.
Our Suggested Strategy for Nonprofits
Step one is to accept that if your site is not mobile-optimized, you're already a step behind, and you need to address it quickly. However the good news is that for most nonprofits, it won't take much to fix this and move on to more important things, like signing up new program participants & members!
- If you don't already have a page for every program, stop reading this and go do that first – seriously, it really is that important. Done that? Great, keep reading...
- Use some of the tools available to evaluate your site before you make any drastic changes. Google provides a Mobile-Friendly Test page that will check a single page of your site, and a Mobile Usability report in their Webmaster Tools suite for a more intensive review of your entire site. Note that the latter requires administrative access and might entail some technical setup. However, it is worth the effort, and if your team is not already using Google Webmaster Tools you should look into it as an ongoing maintenance tool (not just for checking mobile support).
- If your site is not mobile-friendly but your CMS supports responsive templates, what are you waiting for? Talk to your web developer and choose a template that can be easily applied on top of your existing site. Google even published a handy guide for many popular platforms that explains how to do this (they really want you to succeed on mobile). In most cases, you'll be done after this step!
- If you're here, then you've probably got bigger changes required, and will need to come up with a plan with your web developer. However, consider that even manually updating your site is almost never an all-or-nothing proposition. You should first focus on optimizing the landing pages for your key programs and services (i.e. your most critical destinations from web search). Even if other site content is not mobile-friendly yet, you want to ensure that Google does not penalize the pages that will most directly drive your membership and revenue. Once that phase is complete, then move on to your secondary content as time and budget allow.