Is being mobile responsive a ranking factor?

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

It was reported that many websites lost even more traffic, but from my client’s data, any bigger decreases during this time were due to changes in the industry, or a lack of optimisation in other areas due to algorithm changes.

Fast forward to 2016, and there is still doubt over whether being mobile responsive really is a ranking factor. 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 ranking benefits to desktop search results by having a mobile-friendly site (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

Issues such as high bounce rates, (caused by a portion of the 20-40% of visitors who can’t view the website properly on a phone) and slow loading pages (caused by large imagery) are all indirect performance factors that tend to come from sites not being built to be mobile-friendly.
Answers - simple but wrong or complex but right

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, now and in the future.