What Booksellers Need to Know About Google’s Mobile-Friendly Update

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A recent update to Google’s search algorithm privileges mobile-friendly websites by ranking them higher in search results on mobile devices. While this may impact searches for bookstore websites not already optimized for smartphones, the American Booksellers Association’s IndieCommerce team wants booksellers to know there is no need to panic. Despite media reports, which adopted the trendy term “Mobilegeddon” to describe the April 21 transition, booksellers have time to adapt to the change.

“It remains to be seen how ​much of an impact this ​change will have (and when) and what kinds of searches it will ​ultimately ​affect,” said Neil Strandberg, ABA’s director of technology and IndieCommerce team leader. Adapting to the change can be a 2015 project for bookstore website administrators, but does not require immediate action.

At present, the new criteria, which Google announced in February, is only applicable to searches conducted on smartphones, not to searches on iPads, tablets, or PCs.

With IndieCommerce’s transition to the Drupal 7 platform, stores can choose from themes in three categories — fixed, fluid, and responsive — with responsive being the most mobile-friendly. Some of these themes can also be easily customized. Booksellers can check out the list of themes on the Drupal 7 help site to see if theirs is mobile-friendly and to choose a new one if it is not.

A bookstore’s web administrator can also check whether a site is mobile-friendly by taking the Google Mobile-Friendly Test here. Booksellers can type in the site’s URL, and if the test determines the site is not mobile-friendly, it will explain why  and suggest simple fixes, such as increasing text size and moving links that are too close together.

For IndieCommerce stores whose sites are not mobile friendly, “switching a theme is really a very simple process,” Strandberg said. “The level of effort can be self-selected because it depends on how particular you want to be about how your content appears.”

The IndieCommerce team is also available to answer questions from stores about optimization for mobile devices.

Leah Quintal, director of SEO at JB Media Group, an SEO, social media, and public relations firm that presented at this year’s Winter Institute, explained why bookstores should put in the effort to make their sites mobile-friendly.

“The growth of mobile users has now surpassed the growth of desktop users worldwide. Google’s mission is to make information universally accessible and useful, so if more and more users are using mobile devices, then naturally Google will prioritize mobile-friendly sites in their search results,” she said. “Likewise it is in the best interest for booksellers to follow suit by creating or adapting websites to focus on the end user — and that means becoming mobile-friendly.”

While ABA members should adopt mobile-friendly websites as a matter of best practice, they can assume that if a Google user searches for their specific store by name on a mobile device, their site will be found easily whether or not it is optimized to be mobile-friendly.

However, if a Google user searches for bookstores around them or clicks on the “shop nearby” feature on a mobile device, with the new algorithm, even if a store is closer to the user, a more mobile-friendly site may be listed higher.

“I think there is some evolution that will happen; there is some change that will unfold over time and stores are strongly advised to make this change, but they don’t need to lose sleep about it this week,” Strandberg said. “They can begin to make their plans, select their themes, connect with web developers or whoever supports their website. I don’t think anyone will lose market share by taking a more considered approach to accommodate this change.”

In a March 25 post on the topic on JB Media Group’s tech blog, Quintal echoed Strandberg’s opinion that a considered approach is more important than rushing to accommodate the change.

“It’s better to get your site updated for mobile correctly than to make hasty decisions to meet the deadline,” she said. “Moving forward, however, prioritize mobile site work, and consider the overarching message: user experience.”

Booksellers who want more information about Google’s mobile-friendly update should check out the technology website TechCrunch or the SEO blog Search Engine Land’s helpful Q&A on the topic.

Booksellers should also feel free to contact IndieCommerce’s Strandberg.