In the SEO game, Google is King. It’s their game. Don’t let anyone fool you; if you’re not playing by Google’s rules, your website and your business will suffer the consequences.
This is why we want to be sure you know about two of the biggest changes Google has made that have a massive impact on your business website and the ability of your customers and prospects to find your company.
It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that if your prospects can’t find you online, they can’t buy from you.
Get these two things squared away on your site to even the playing field and get off of Google’s $#!t List.
Google Change #1: Your website has to be mobile responsive or Google will punish you for it
Google has made changes to how it indexes content of all types. Most of these changes have been very subtle and you likely haven’t noticed them since Google has become excellent at sneaking in small changes over time.
Unless you are a super marketing nerd (like our marketing team proudly is), SEO ninja, or you live and breathe website optimization, it’s completely understandable that these could sneak by you.
With the rise of smartphones and an army of internet-connected mobile devices, mobile search is on the rise. Simply put: more people are using their phones to search Google than ever before.
Google recognizes this and has changed their algorithms to favor mobile search.
Mobile responsive websites are now a must
Now, if your website is not mobile responsive, Google will punish you for it. Your page rankings will fall. If you previously ranked on the first page of Google search results for your company name, you may find that your site traffic has changed substantially over the last year.
This is because Google is “rewarding” websites that are fully responsive. This means that your website is encoded in such a way that it will look good on mobile devices.
Gone are the days when you have a separate mobile-only version of your website. Modern websites are built on content management systems (CMS) platforms like WordPress, Joomla, Kentico or DNN so the content blocks and site structure is dynamic: The look and feel of a website will change based on how someone is accessing the site.
A website will automatically optimize based on the device used to view it.
You absolutely need to have a mobile responsive website.
If your website has not been optimized for mobile visitors, Google’s code spiders can see this based on key indicators in the back-end of your site. There’s no way to ask for a leave or stay of execution from Google: The almighty Google bots decide the fate of your website. If it is not mobile-ready, it gets devalued in search results.
Google is judge, jury, and executioner here. There’s no place to appeal.
It’s their game, and it’s better to play by the rules rather than go rogue. And — hey! — by creating a mobile responsive website, you make it easier for customers and prospects to find your website and interact with your brand anyway. So it’s a win-win for you and your business.
If you don’t have an in-house web or marketing team we strongly recommend you find one or at least a reputable freelance web developer (with proven experience) that can help you optimize your website and ensure it is fully mobile responsive. This is so important that any new website project a specialist takes on should be fully responsive as a given; it shouldn’t even be something you need to ask to be included.
Has it been a while since you’ve refreshed your website? This would be an excellent time to ensure you update it and get your site mobile-responsive ready. Your customers will thank you for it, your prospects will be able to find you, and Google will once again give you the time of day.
How do you tell if your website is fully responsive, mobile responsive, or mobile-ready?
Open your website in a browser, grab the edge of the browser with a left-click, and slowly adjust the size of the browser window. If your website dynamically changes and content moves around based on the size of your window, congratulations, you’re probably good to go!
Also pull up your business website on your phone or tablet and see how it looks. If the experience is awful, with badly cropped images and text getting clipped, then you likely have some work to do.
Sensitive to the fact that this is a massive change, Google has also created a tool that will test your website for you. Go check out Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test page and enter your website URL. It will do some mathing and data crunches (maybe some deep algorithm lunges) and come back with an analysis of how mobile friendly your site is.
Google Change #2: Your website has to be HTTPS ready or Google will punish it in search results AND mark it ‘not secure’
This is a pretty brutal one that Google was threatening for a while and finally acted on. Google reads individual websites and notes whether they have a small code script known as an SSL certificate. While browsers have done this for a long time, Google is now punishing sites that do not have one.
If you have an SSL on your site, it’s known as being https-ready. If you don’t, Google will hit you for it.
Google recently threw the massive kill switch on this one, so if you’ve seen a marked drop in your website traffic since July 2018 this is likely the culprit.
The logic of Google’s Brain makes sense, if it’s a bit heavy-handed. They want to make the web a safer place by making it easier for people to find safe sites and avoid unsafe sites.
It’s very important to note that if you do not have an SSL certificate on your website, Google will not only punish your search engine results (where your page ranks when someone searches for keywords or your company name), but even more draconian is how this is displayed. Visitors to your site will actually be given a warning from Google saying that the site is “not secure”.
How many of your customers or potential prospects do you think will continue to your business website if there is a giant sign on the front of it from Google saying, “This looks suspicious, we highly recommend you don’t go in here. There might be ghosts and goblins and Nigerian princes!” (paraphrasing).
How do I know if my site is HTTPS ready?
Open your preferred browser of choice and simply look all the way to the left of where your www website address is. If you see a green lock, you’re good. If you see your website begins with the all-important “https://” then you are all set! That’s what you’re looking for.
If, however, you have no little lock icon, and your website begins with “http://” without an “s”, then you need to get this addressed quickly.
What is an SSL certificate?
In the simplest of terms, SSL certificates are little digital key markers in the code on your website that indicate whether your site is safe and secure or not. In simpler terms, it means that a third-party has done something to verify that your website is legit. You need one of these.
These are certificates you have to pay for.
And if you don’t have one, your site will suffer for it.
Where do I get an SSL certificate?
If you do a quick search, you’ll find tons of businesses ready and willing to sell you an SSL certificate. One of the most confusing things is you will find a massive difference in price ranging from free, to $20 or so, to several hundreds of dollars.
So what’s the difference between them all? Which do you need?
Most of the differences are technical nuances that can get a little deep in the weeds. If you have a basic business website, you just need to have a “standard” SSL.
We recommend not getting a free one as there are often strings attached (like needing to manually renew it every few months). Generally speaking, buying one for 20-60 bucks or so is pretty standard. And purchase one from a legitimate source, such as Comodo, RapidSSL, DigiCert or GoDaddy.
After that most of these sites have a very simple walkthrough as to where you drop the piece of code onto your website. Depending on your website host, they may even be willing to do this for you.
If your website is hosted with a larger company, (such as GoDaddy, Media Temple, SiteGround or WP Engine) simply send an email to your account rep and tell them you want to get an SSL so your site is https-ready. They’ll be happy to help you out. Or, find the SSL section on their website. Since these are required, these companies are more than willing to sell you one.
It’s common for SSL certificates to be purchased on a 2-year cycle, then you renew it every two years. If you do this through your website host, it does get a little simpler.
Playing Google’s game to get on Google’s good side and show up in search results
The nuances of Google’s impact on website SEO go very deep. It’s easy to feel like it’s all a lot of smoke and magic and ritual sacrificing of small marmosets over open flames, but these are the offerings required to appease the Internet Gods.
By addressing these two huge changes from Google, you can ensure your business website is current with the times and not being punished by Google. By making these changes your website will rank better, your customers will be able to find you easier, and prospects will be able to identify you when they are looking for solutions online.
Remember, when picking a fight against Internet Gods and the Ursa Major that is Google, it’s best not to poke the bear.
For more tips on how to enhance your online presence, read our Beginner's Guide to Building a Winning Social Media Presence for SMBs.