I didn’t do it on purpose, Jim. Honest I didn’t. But, as has happened a time or two in the past, mentioning a problem in a blog post was enough to get some insight from blogger Jim Grey. In the recent 2015 in the Rear View post, I bemoaned the year’s tremendous drop in visitors to the non-blog portion of my website. In a comment on the post, Jim theorized that it was because Google had taken to “downranking sites that aren’t mobile friendly”. Although it should not have been, that was news to me. A little checking showed that not only was the connection believable, it was pretty much undeniable. Thanks Jim.
A long time ago (March 2) I received email from Google pointing out that much of my website was not mobile-friendly. Mobile-friendly sites are those that work well on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. That usability usually comes with some effort. Other than that inherent in the WordPress based blog portion, my site made no such effort at all. The image at right shows how the cover page of my most recent road trip looked on a smartphone. The display could be zoomed to read and interact with various items but it was uneven, awkward, and ugly. That Google email had pointed me to some tools for testing pages on my site and gently suggested I do something about the many transgressions. It politely cautioned me that some of my pages would be “ranked appropriately for smartphone users”. What I did was decide it was too much work and gently ignored the suggestions.
I paid for it. When I followed up on Jim’s observation with a little web searching (yes I used Google), I found a number of online articles about the search engine’s plans to penalize non-mobile-compliant sites in search ranking. Most of the articles I found were from March and April. Roll out of the new ranking algorithm began April 21. Although I had left it out of the final article, looking at 2015 statistics had shown that the drop off had begun rather sharply in April. The connection between Google’s change and my vanished traffic was, as I said, undeniable.
Google describes the change as affecting only searches from smartphones. Searches from desktops, laptops, and even tablets were treated no differently in May than in March. That means that not only were most of the visits that disappeared in 2015 tied to Google searches, they were tied to searches from phones. That’s also undeniable and almost unbelievable.
I revisited the Google testing tools and paid a lot more attention to the suggestions. There was some good news. The vast majority of my website is very simple so that adding just one line (to set a mobile viewport) to a page allows it to pass Google’s mobile-friendly test and makes it look better. The page shown at the top of the article reappears at the left with that one line added.
One bit of bad news is that there are more than a thousand of these simple pages. The change is easy but time consuming and somewhat tedious plus doing a thousand easy things isn’t really easy. Other bad news is that that not all pages start behaving with the one line addition. Others, such at the site’s home page, must be completely redesigned to function properly on mobile devices.
After proving the concept by updating all pages of the most recent trip, I decided that tackling cover pages for the 131 completed road trips was a task big enough to be of value but not so large as to be overwhelming. Over the last few days I have “fixed” the cover pages for all completed trips. That means that the 24 day trips, where the cover page and the daily journal page are one and the same, are done. The daily journal pages for remaining trips are being nibbled away at in reverse chronological order. Journals for the ten most recent trips have been updated at the time of this posting. Included are all nine 2015 trips plus the last trip of 2014. The simple one line change has been applied to a number of other pages even though it isn’t enough to allow the page to pass Google’s mobile-friendly test. These pages, which include the home page, the road trip and oddment listing pages, and most of the 57 individual oddment pages, will not appear in Google searches executed from a smartphone but they can be accessed directly and will be more usable (e.g., larger text size) than they have been. I will endeavor to produce mobile compliant versions of these pages in the near future but am not so foolish as to promise anything by any time.
Being mobile-friendly is a good thing and I don’t question Google’s move one bit. The “weave or get off the web” sentiment may seem harsh but it really doesn’t make sense to point people to pages they are sure to have trouble using even if what they’re looking for is hidden in there somewhere. I commend Google for taking this step and for supplying tools and information to help with the necessary changes. Google has long provided numerous tools for webmasters. During this week, I’ve become familiar with more of them and more appreciative of all of them. Becoming more mobile friendly isn’t the only improvement they have helped me with this week. They can provide insight as well. In last week’s post I jokingly said that I hoped the mysterious popularity of a journal page from a Lincoln Highway trip came from “the chicken mailbox or the Ogden Footprints”. Thanks to Google’s webmaster tools I now know that the mailbox was indeed the subject of a number of Pinterest posts. Viva la chicken mailbox!
Google made people (including me) aware of the skyrocketing use of mobile devices and some of the related issues. Those who were paying attention knew the change was coming. Non-compliant websites aren’t blocked or totally ignored they are simply ranked lower in search results for certain devices. As I proved by ignoring those emails, Google can’t make me change. All they can do is make me wish I had.