Towards the end of 2014, I began recommending clients to update their website to be mobile responsive. Some companies did not follow up with this advice due to the costs involved and there being little evidence of the benefits. Those who took the plunge agreed that the future would have more people using their mobile phones to browse the web and that it would become a new, modern standard for how a website should be developed.
When a Google algorithm update in April 2015 happened, sites that weren’t mobile-friendly started to see their search traffic decrease. More than half of the websites that were not mobile-friendly started to see 10-20% drops in year-on-year traffic between May and December 2015. From traffic data analysed and cross-referenced, this decrease was pinpointed to the April update
Websites that saw bigger decreases were affected by changes in their respective industry, or through lack of optimisation in other areas due to algorithm changes that happened after.
Fast forward to 2016 and there is still debate over whether a mobile responsive website really is a ranking factor or not. This is still in light of there being increasing amounts of evidence to the contrary. For example, on the 21st April 2015 the BBC and Search Engine Land posted articles about the effect of the update, coining it “Mobilegeddon”.
Today, an article was posted on TechCrunch that states Google announcing “in May, it will increase the importance of having a mobile page, and sites that are not mobile-friendly will rank even lower than before.”.
A non mobile-friendly site may not directly affect desktop search results but it definitely affects mobile search-results, and guess what 20-40% of your visitors are using to get to your site?!
Let’s play devil’s advocate, even if there are no direct benefits of having a mobile-friendly site for desktop search results (which is the quick and easy answer), there are many indirect causes for a non-mobile-friendly site to not rank well, as mentioned by http://searchengineland.com/responsive-design-ranking-factor-228464.
Indirect causes such as high bounce rates (caused by the 20-40% of visitors who can’t view the website properly on their phone) and slow loading pages (from large imagery) are all other ranking factors that tend to come from the configuration of sites that are not mobile-friendly.
So when someone says to you that being mobile-friendly isn’t a ranking factor, be aware that nothing in SEO (or life) is as black and white as it seems. An important role of any digital marketer should be to cover all eventualities so that a website maintains the best chances to perform well in the SERPs.