How Does Responsive Design Affect Google Search Ranking

mobilegeddon, too many mobile device

Image courtesy Jeremy Keith

Mobilegeddon is upon us. We’ve known it’s coming for a while and it’s sent many website owners scrambling to update their sites to be responsive on smaller screens.

For the moment, let’s put aside the fact that mobility has been essential for a long time. Instead, let’s discuss how this impacts your site, dispel a few myths, and create a plan for moving forward.

Why Did Google Make The Change?

While it may seem obvious to those of us in the business, for business owners who don’t live and breathe this stuff it may be less so. The answer, it turns out, is pretty simple.

It’s in Google’s best interest to provide their customers with the best possible experience. Their goal is to get you to the correct, most relevant, information as fast as possible. Sending someone searching on a mobile device to a site that doesn’t work well (if at all) on mobile violates that core principle.

The Update Affects Mobile Searches

According to Google’s Webmaster Blog:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.

That statement implies that desktop searches will remain unchanged, but mobile device searches may see significant impact. This is a big deal because mobile queries on Google are expected to surpass desktop queries this year.

Side note: This is particularly important for localized searches.

Were You Prepared?

Despite repeated warnings that mobile-friendliness is important, many website operators have held off on upgrading.

To emphasize the importance of mobile, Google announced the algorithm change two months in advance. Something they rarely do.

Unfortunately, two months isn’t a lot of time to prepare, but we can’t blame Google.

The growth in mobile adoption has been underway for years and it’s incumbent on all site owners to create the best possible experience for their users.

In case you have any doubts, take a look at your own website statistics.

Currently mobile (including tablet) accounts for just over 15% of our traffic on Not the biggest slice of the pie but significant to be sure.

On other sites we operate, we see even more evidence of why mobile is important:

  • On, a locally-focused website for Frisco, TX, mobile accounts for a whopping 76% of traffic.
  • On GeekBeat.TV, a leading online technology news show, mobile accounts for a more typical, but significant 34%.

And those numbers will continue to grow. What this tells us is that no matter what Google does, mobility is important.

Mobile Is One of Many Search Factors

Algorithm changes can have nasty implications as anyone that got hit by the Panda or Penguin updates will attest. But mobility, even when searching on mobile devices, is only one of many factors. The quality of your content, link profiles, how current your content is, and more than 250 other factors, all account for how you rank.

Paul Slack, President of Vende Social, had this to say about mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor:

Regardless of device, SEO best practices remain the same. Don’t try to trick the search engines, give users good quality content, make it easy for the search engines to know what you’re doing. The only twist is that now the search engines need to understand how your mobile site is set up. This is why we recommend responsive sites because you build it once, make it SEO friendly, and you have all of your bases covered.

All to say, don’t panic if you’re site isn’t mobile-friendly now, but we would highly recommend making mobile-responsiveness a top priority.

What To Do Next

If you’re not sure if your website is responsive, Google has provided a tool to test mobile-friendliness.

If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, then it’s time to get to work. If you’ve been contemplating a redesign or refresh, this would be a good time to press forward.

Most modern websites can be retro-fitted to be responsive, but for some older sites, it may be more work to retrofit than to rebuild. If you’re happy with your current design consider a mobile-only update. Otherwise, consider an overhaul.

Whatever you do, don’t rush out and just slap something together for the sake of mobility. You’ve waited this long, and Google’s 4/21 date is here. So, take the time to put together a plan that will provide the best possible mobile experience for your users.

If you would like a site assessment drop us a line, we’ll be happy to take a look at no obligation.

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