Maybe 5 million+ SMB websites should be de-ranked by Google on April 21st

March 23, 2015

Google will penalize any website or landing page that is not responsive designed for an optimized mobile experience as of April 21st, 2015.  To quote Search Engine Land:

Google’s Zineb Ait Bahajji [said] at SMX Munich the upcoming mobile-friendly algorithm will impact more sites than Panda or Penguin algorithms. 

If we look at website quality audits done by our friends at BuzzBoard (as well as others) who take into account responsive design for mobile, we find that millions of SMB websites will experience a serious hit in their Google ranking on April 21, 2015 because they are not mobile optimized. The winners will be those websites that are already designed responsively and have a mobile-friendly consumer experience built into the layout. I'm reminded of the excerpt from Scott Jehl's Responsible Responsive Design, which provides a intelligent guide for web designers to future-proof the sites they build:

Sustainability: The ability for the technology driving a site or application, to work for devices that exist today and to continue to be usable and accessible to users, devices, and browsers in the future.

The shift in consumer demand from desktop to mobile discovery is on a clear hockey stick trajectory.  Today's small businesses must have web content optimized for our multi-screen world -- what works on on desktop will not necessarily translate well to a smaller screen. Being aware of this means investing in good technology, design, and other web resources. Google is selfishly (and probably rightfully!) pushing this requirement at a pivotal moment in web development; as the Google mobile search experience will improve dramatically for consumers.  It's actually overdue.

Today, I worry that those SMB Marketing companies that host large volumes of non-responsive designed sites will see a portion of their subscription based product revenue take a hit.  The number of leads they report to the SMB’s (calls, clicks, form-fills, map-draws, coupon downloads, etc) will decline significantly when these sites no longer rank on Google.  Same for those companies that are using websites and landing pages for leadgen and/or PayPerCall models.  This could have a sizable impact on renewals, new sales and the confidence their sales channels have in selling the product.  As well, I worry about all the SMB’s that will loose their primary source for new customers, traffic, leads, and revenue when they no longer rank on Google.

This situation is not anyone’s fault.  It's just a matter of the recent blistering pace of the shift to mobile by consumers. Digital marketing players across our Digital ecosystem were building non-responsive design as late as 3 years ago.  Why?  1. The tech was not there.  2. Mobile penetration was not there to push us. For reference, Media Queries is a CSS3 module allowing content rendering to adapt to conditions such as screen resolution (e.g. smartphone screen vs. computer screen). It only became a W3C recommended standard in June 2012, and is a cornerstone technology of Responsive web design.  Many of the non-responsive websites out there were built years ago, and these sites are hosted by the large SMB marketing companies (think companies like, YPG, Yodle, DemandForce, ReachLocal, AffinityX, etc) on their web-builder platforms.   Most of those companies in this situation will need to rebuild the sites … by website.

Alternatively, those companies can use new, proprietary migration tech to seamlessly lift those non-responsive sites off the third-party platforms in large batches, reproduce them exactly, and then re-publish them with responsive design mobile optimization.  Meaning their clients can be ready for Google’s algorithm change on April 21st without a service interruption. Migration tech like this ensures that the primary traits of Responsive Design, as defined by Jehl, are delivered:

  • Usability: The way a website’s user interface is presented to the user, and how that UI responds to browsing conditions and user interactions.
  • Access: The ability for users of all devices, browsers, and assistive technologies to access and understand a site’s features and content.
  • Sustainability: The ability for the technology driving a site or application to work for devices that exist today and to continue to be usable and accessible to users, devices, and browsers in the future.
  • Performance: The speed at which a site’s features and content are perceived to be delivered to the user and the efficiency with which they operate within the user interface.

As an example, DevHub has migration tech that makes any website responsive and mobile optimized, and can mass process tens of thousands of websites overnight, saving those SMB marketers (large and small!) a significant amount in rebuild expenses, while ensuring SMB's themselves are prepared for the Google Mobile-Friendly algorithm change coming down the pike on April 21st.

About the author:  Ed O’Keefe is an international digital strategist, VC Operating Partner and CEO at DevHub, a tech platform that merges Merchant Conversion Intelligence with WebSite Creation Technology. Check out the company's website at