Aqueous Digital

Why Google’s latest message is more than a little bit frightening…

Last week we received an email from Google in our inbox. Nothing exceptional in that, we get them every week however this one was slightly different to anything we had seen previously.

This email said the following;

Google systems have tested 133 pages from your site and found that 100% of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors on these 133 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.

Given that Google are always concerned with user experience and their primary aim is to rank sites in search that can satisfy a user’s requirements then this type of email probably shouldn’t be a surprise.

What worried us was the fact that the site it referred to is on WordPress.

Now with WordPress currently making up anywhere between a fifth and a quarter of the web depending on which figures you want to take, you would assume that it is ‘mobile friendly’. In fact when this one was built it was on a responsive framework so it is definitely ‘mobile friendly’.

Apparently not in this case and when we dug a bit deeper we discovered the reason why. This particular site has been hosted on our sever for some time but not updated by the client. We would have automatically offered a maintenance contract when we built it but as is often the case we were informed that ‘they would do it themselves’ to save cost.

The upshot now is that this is costing them more than just the maintenance. It is costing them traffic and business.

Typically sites we look after get between a quarter and a half of all their traffic each month from mobile devices and this one is no exception. In fact over the past six months they have derived a third of their traffic from mobile devices so it is quite an important source for them.

Missing the updates means that they are now missing traffic, not because the site is a bad mobile experience (it’s not) but because Google’s ‘systems’ have decided it’s not good enough.

And this is the troubling part for us, Google’s behaviour in this case.

As an almost monopoly provider of search in the UK they are stating quite clearly that “These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.” In other words don’t expect to appear in mobile search anytime soon.

Is this right? Is it consistent across the piece and are all sites getting warnings like this? We’ve seen no others, even on sites which frankly are a dogs dinner and still come up in mobile search.

There has long been a feeling amongst site owners that Google has simply too much power and tales of sites being removed from search and businesses going under are commonplace. Small businesses in particular feel the pinch in circumstances like this and there are too many tales across the web of businesses that have simply had to give up and go out of business as they cannot be found. Ironically you can just Google this to read for yourself….

The frightening part is that once again Google can and do act with impunity.

We regularly tell clients that this is Google’s game and you either play by their rules or not at all. But it seems that they can change these rules at any time, without notice and once again small businesses around the country are feeling the brunt.

This new benchmark is a warning shot for anyone who has an old non responsive site and we are expecting a flood of complaints over the coming months as more and more people realise that their perfectly reasonable site which has served them so well for so many years is now deemed by ‘Google systems’ to be not good enough and they are going to have to invest large sums of money to bring it up to Google’s new threshold.

It might be that, as in this case, a simple set of WordPress framework and plug in updates will cure the problem but for so many more this could be a make or break moment for them and their business.

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