The statistics have been showing a consistent trend the last few years, and a larger and larger percentage of web users are now doing their online browsing via a smart phone or a tablet device. Per one recent analysis of mobile usage trends by industry (calculated by measuring estimated Google search traffic for various keywords by device), certain niches like pizza delivery restaurants may be getting as much as a staggering 75-80% of their web traffic from mobile devices. (Source: http://www.entrepreneurshiplife.com/proliferation-mobile-device-usage-united-states/).
However even against the growing mountain of evidence showing that a responsive site is a must have in 2015, some business owners are still resistant to making a web development project to ensure that their site is mobile-friendly a priority. “What difference will another year make?” Some business owners will protest. Others might say, “It’s not truly mobile-friendly, but by website experience isn’t THAT bad using a phone.” Obviously converting a website to be fully responsive, especially one that is very large in size, can be a time-consuming or relatively expensive undertaking. Despite the objections, there is now a new and virtually indisputable reason to take the time and money to make a website responsive.
This month, Google began sending the following message out to a very large number of webmasters:
To: webmaster of http://www.xxxxxxxx.com
Google systems have tested 441 pages from your site and found that 100% of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors on these 439 pages severely affect how mobile users are able to experience your website. These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.
Note the highlighted portion of the content above, specifically referencing the impact of a non-responsive design on the organic search results of smartphone users. Lest anyone view these notifications/warnings from Google as idle threats, consider the events surrounding the last time Google sent out a large volume of warning notifications to Webmasters…
On April 24, 2012, Google turned the SEO community on its head by unleashing their famous/infamous Penguin algorithm update (http://searchengineland.com/library/google/google-penguin-update). This update dramatically changed how Google processed and rated various types of inbound links to websites. Many widely used and generally effective “link-building” tactics suddenly became viewed as “rank modifying SPAM” by Google overnight. The result were huge losses in organic traffic for many websites that had been engaged in overly aggressive link-building efforts. In the years since that first update, Google has continued to tighten the screws on their subsequent Penguin updates, resulting in a total shift in what the average webmaster now views as responsible or safe methods of optimizing their site.
However the Penguin events did not come without warning. On April 15th, just 9 days before the 1st Penguin update, here is an email notification send out by Webmaster Tools to an anonymous site owner:
Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www.xxxxxxxx.com/,
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.
We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.
If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.
If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.
Google Search Quality Team
While the expectation is that Google will not act nearly as punitively against webmasters who fail to make their sites responsive in the coming months as they did against webmasters deemed to have “unnatural link profiles” in 2012, it would be unwise to ignore the warning signs being given based on past history.