Remember that old saying, "when I tell you to jump, you ask how high?" Every industry has an 800-pound gorilla that periodically tells everyone to jump. In the web world, that gorilla is Google and Google wants us all to reach for our jump ropes. There are two changes coming in early 2017 that you need to know about or suffer the consequences.
1. Google wants your site to be secure - Next time you are on a website, take a look at the address bar. The domain there will start with either the letters "http://" or "https://". The difference is that the latter is secure and all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted. In a standard "http://" site, the communication is in plain text and anyone can read it or even intercept it. In the past, the land of encrypted (or "https://") sites was mostly one of banks and ecommerce providers collecting credit cards. No more. Google wants all sites to use encryption to prevent hackers from modifying a site to fool a user. Starting in January 2017, all sites that don't use encryption will be marked as "not secure" on all Chrome browsers (about 50% of the browser market). This is the first step. Google already plans to release a version where the browser will show a red triangle with an exclamation point warning users if the site isn't secure. I suspect at some point they might introduce these warnings into search results and perhaps even create an interstitial page warning users away from the site. (Right?!? I told you they were a big mean gorilla!)
What you can do: When you bring up your website, look at the domain, does it say http:// or https://. If it doesn't have the S, give the company hosting your website a call and ask them for help in getting a secure connection set up. This is a pretty easy fix for most small business websites.
2. Google wants your site to be mobile friendly - Way back in April 2015, I warned you about Mobilegeddon, the change that Google was making to their algorithm to elevate mobile sites when accessed through mobile browsers. The upshot of that change was that if someone were searching on a mobile device, the search results would bias toward mobile-friendly sites. However, searches performed on regular computers were not impacted. In early 2017, that will change. Google is planning to bias results on all searches (whether performed on a mobile device or your handy dandy home computer) to show mobile friendly results first.
What can you do: Go to Google's mobile-friendly tester and enter your URL. If Google says that you are mobile friendly, smile and move on with your day. If on the other hand, Google says you are not mobile friendly, you have some decisions to make. Unfortunately, there isn't a switch you can turn on to make your website mobile-friendly. The best approach is to refresh the site with a new mobile-friendly design. Need someone to talk to about the process? We are happy to help.
I know, it seems ridiculous (and perhaps even overwhelming) to have to make all of these changes to our websites just because some Silicone Valley company thinks it is time to do so. But until someone develops a viable Google rival, this is the price we pay for being able to wield the power of the World Wide Web. I don't know about you, but I am grabbing my jump rope.
Erika Dickstein is a Web Strategist located in the DC metro area. She specializes in working with small businesses on creating strategic goal-oriented websites. You can connect with her at www.springinsight.com.