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Who is in charge of your website – you or Google?

The focus on SEO is seeing people bend to Google’s demands that websites are mobile friendly. But take a look at how people are actually accessing your website, says Graham Jones. You may be surprised.

The other day one of my consultancy clients asked me to review their new website. It was a stunning design, but it was clear that the designers had approached this from a “mobile first” perspective. That’s very common amongst design agencies these days, but I questioned it nonetheless.

“We were told that you had to do things for mobiles otherwise Google will not list you,” said my client. “Besides,” they added, “everyone uses their phones these days to go to websites, so it has to be mobile friendly.”

True. But also false.

I had to take my client through a series of questions which then made them pause, say “oh” a lot and then admit they needed to go back to their design team.

Here’s the issue for my client. Looking at their analytics, 84% of all their visits come from a desktop machine – not a mobile device. The mobile-first design they had adopted for the future site was great if you just swiped the page with your finger, but tedious if you have to scroll endlessly with a mouse. In other words, the new design was worse for the bulk of their visitors.

However, the design agency was right. Google has said that from the end of this month, unless your website is visible on a mobile device properly, then it will not be indexed. Google has noticed something – that the bulk of site visits are on mobile devices.

Desktop dominates in business

But Google is also daft. It is looking at raw data and forcing the rest of us to adopt changes to websites based on that raw statistic. When you look in detail at the raw data, you discover that all is not what it seems. True, the vast majority of website visits these days are done on mobile devices. But the preponderance of those website visits are to entertainment or media sites.

It turns out that over 80% of all business websites are visited on desktop computers. You only have to go into any office building these days to see row after row of desktop machines, often with a couple of monitors per person. Desktop computing is very much alive and well in business settings.

This was emphasised this week in new data from Adobe. The graphics company has checked over 200 billion website visits and found that apart from media and entertainment, the majority of visits come from desktops, not mobile devices.

The research which Adobe has undertaken also found that the click-through rate on advertising was higher on a mobile device. But the study also found that the conversion rate was higher when visits came from desktops. In other words, mobile visitors cost you money, whereas desktop visitors bring you money.

What’s right for your business?

The push from Google to be mobile friendly is evident from their perspective. It means that people will continue to click on adverts on mobiles, leading to more money for the search giant.

However, for the rest of us, just accepting what Google says is a problem. If you want your website indexed, then your site must be mobile friendly now. However, that does not mean you need to become “desktop unfriendly”.

The move towards the never-ending scrolling page is because that is easy to design so that the site can look good on any device, regardless of its screen size. So, designers are essentially somewhat lazy. To produce a different design for a desktop device is more complicated and time-consuming than creating a single design that works on all devices.

From your perspective, though, you need a web design that functions well, for every device. That means having a mobile site that is different on tablets and smartphones. It also means having a different design that works on desktops instead.

You need the mobile versions to get listed on Google, that’s a fact. But you also need to focus on the real data which shows that most business is conducted through desktops and that’s where most conversions take place. In turn, that means you need a site that works very well on desktops – which is not the “never ending scroll”.

As you develop your website for the coming year ahead, make sure you produce a site that is for mobiles, but that it also works efficiently on desktops. That’s where you will make most of your money. It probably means you now need two designs: one to satisfy Google and one to please the bulk of your visitors. Remember this too, doing what Google tells you to do is good for Google. But is it good for you and your business? Who is in charge of your website? You or Google? Just following the “everything must be mobile” maxim suggests you have decided that Google is in charge of your website. Naturally, I don’t agree!

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