From a marketing perspective, mobile search is one of the best things that has ever happened to the restaurant industry. Smartphones are, of course, now ubiquitous across America, and consumers are becoming more and more reliant on them. Some estimates currently place the mobile slice of the overall internet traffic pie at over 60 percent, and the amount of smartphone-wielding Americans who use their devices to search for a restaurant via a web browser has topped 90 percent.
Until now, the most critical component to ranking highly in these searches was maintaining up-to-date and relevant content. But on April 21, Google will roll out a landmark change to its algorithm that will begin to take mobile-friendliness into account as a ranking factor.
“The coming update will truly be the biggest move Google has ever made in the mobile realm,” says OpenTable’s SEO Marketing Director Scott Lavelle. “It represents a significant change in how businesses will connect with their customers on smartphones. Look at it not as a threat, but as an opportunity to put your best foot forward and provide your diners with a fantastic mobile experience.”
What does mobile-friendly actually mean?
If you’re wondering if your site is already mobile-friendly, you can check using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. If it isn’t, there are a few things you need to know:
First, you need to have your website formatted for the small screen. This can be managed by creating either a dedicated mobile version of your existing site or building an entirely new one that is responsive.
Second, for both methods of going mobile, you need to adhere to some general design principles to pass Google’s new requirements. This includes ensuring text is appropriately sized so it can be easily read on a mobile device (Google recommends starting at 16 pixels) and links aren’t too close together.
Should I create a mobile version of my existing site or go responsive?
This depends pretty heavily on how happy you are with your existing website. There are several benefits to creating a responsive website beyond simply passing the mobile sniff test. There’s one URL, only one place to go to check analytics, and it gives you the ability to edit specifically for tablet. If you’re ready to revamp your entire web presence, responsive is definitely recommended.
However, creating a separate mobile website is faster and will pass Google’s mobile-friendly test just as well as responsive. You don’t have to overhaul your whole website and you can build it by importing your existing web content. Oh and did I mention it was free for OpenTable restaurants? You can create your site’s mobile version in just a few minutes in the OpenTable Restaurant Center.
Will this SEO update affect desktop search rankings in any way?
No, not really. This update applies to smartphone searches only and shouldn’t affect your desktop ranking in any negative way (at least, not yet). However, creating a mobile-friendly version of your website can lower the overall bounce rate (the amount of people who land on the site and immediately leave), since people on mobile are receiving a better experience. This is a signal to Google that people find value in visiting your website, and that’s important in helping your overall SEO ranking. So, in theory, having a mobile-friendly presence could actually boost your desktop ranking as well.
What happens if I’m not mobile-friendly by April 21?
Google has said that the algorithm will index sites in real time. This means that even if your site isn’t mobile-friendly on April 21 and you take a hit in your rankings, you should (keyword: should) regain your ranking as soon as you meet Google’s new criteria.
So what does Google have coming down the pipe next?
Honestly, nobody knows. Traditionally, Google doesn’t really make a big announcement when it implements changes to its algorithms, but it’s a fair bet that we can expect to continue down this mobile-friendly path for a while. The search engine cares about providing the most relevant content to its users, and on mobile devices a big part of being relevant is creating a solid user experience.
When creating your site, try to think about the experience you would like to have on mobile. Do you like full-page popup ads? Probably not. So to anticipate future mobile SEO changes, avoid those kind of mobile faux pas. This puts you in a good position to maintain your mobile search ranking and capture more customers.