More and more, Google is dictating how websites are designed because everyone cares about SEO. But let’s face it, SEO is just code for trying to make Google happy.
It used to be that 50% of the time required to design a website’s was taken up with trying to get it to look right on the variations needed for Internet Explorer. IE now follows most of the standards, so the main problem is people that refuse to (or can’t) upgrade their browsers.
Google, however is starting to add a lot of requirements. I’m not talking about Chrome, but about what it takes to get SEO points. Structured Data was the first thing that really caused me some philosophical grief. It was also when I realized that my time was starting to be spent customizing sites for Google instead of Microsoft.
First it was the markup
Structured Data (SD) feels a lot like the the old FONT tags. I recently posted an event that had a date and location, but by the time all the Structured Data that Google wanted to see there was 300% more code. It was now hard to find the displayed text buried in the SD.
I get why SD is a good thing: it helps the search engines interpret what websites are trying to say. It gives things like “Saturday at 8” the extra code to explain which Saturday and if 8:00 is a.m. or p.m. I just can’t help but feel that there will be another set of changes soon that will remove all of this clutter from the HTML, like happened with the CSS and the JS.
Goin’ mobile (Keep me movin’)
Now Google is enforcing a “mobile first” design philosophy. By enforcing, I mean that they have announced that search ranking will suffer if a page does not meet their mobile criteria. As PC Magazine reports, “Google’s ‘Mobilegeddon’ is heading your way: …[it] will update its algorithm to give preference to mobile-friendly sites for smartphone or tablet queries.”
In the long run this can be a good thing. In the short run, it’s contrary to everything I’ve historically had to do to make designs look right.
When I started doing web designs, a (now tiny) 400 pixel image took up half the screen. But you still wanted as much text on there as possible, so a small font was the norm. An underlined link was clear and efficient. Now fonts need to be bigger, and chubby fingers on small devices are requiring big buttons to click on.
I usually use a laptop, so today’s websites often look to me like they were designed for 5 year olds. Big colorful buttons planned for the hands of those whose motor skills haven’t quite developed yet. I know this works great for smartphones, but it still looks wrong to me.
The solution is Responsive Design, and it’s been the solution for a few years now.
Responsive Design means a site redesign, and it really means site redesigns, because a variety of different screen shapes and sizes need to be accounted for. Now there is an SEO penalty if you’re not responsive. Actually, you can be non-responsive, as long as you throw away the desktop/laptop design.
Some sites, and I have one, are not suited to mobile. There is a large detailed image, and it needs explanation. It’s not going to be used by a mobile device, however someone on a smartphone might want to know about it and save it for use on their tablet. My ranking will be penalized.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Not quite. Microsoft just didn’t care about meeting standards in their drive to be first. Google is following standards when they exist and has good reason for driving things in the direction they are. But since tools don’t exist to automate the process of adding Structured Data, it’s painful.
Their push to a mobile-first design is just a reflection of the way the world is moving. To be current, you need to have a big flashy big screen design and a tiny, results-oriented mobile design.
The vast majority of website will be improved by implementing Google’s suggested changes. Maybe your site is in need of an update to get there, because you want to keep Google happy, right?