News and analysis
April 23, 2015

Google Tweaks Algorithm to Favor Mobile-Friendly Websites

Nonprofits with out-of-date website technology could see their Internet traffic decline after Google updated its search algorithm this week to favor "mobile-friendly web pages."

Websites will fare better on Google searches if they are built to do a number of things including sizing content to screens so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom, having appropriately sized fonts, and placing links far enough apart that users won’t have trouble clicking on the desired one.

Web pages without these features will be pushed further down in search results.

"What Google is really trying to do is they want to make sure when you search from whatever device that you find the best information and the best user experience," said Karen Coppock, vice president for strategy at TechSoup Global, a San Francisco technology group. "They want to make sure you can actually see the website and read the website and take full advantage of it."

As web traffic from mobile devices grows, nonprofits need to recognize that their constituents will access donor and other critical web pages on the gadgets in their hands, she said.

Roughly 50 percent of newsletters’ traffic comes from mobile devices, she said.

Ms. Coppock estimated that half of nonprofit websites are built on content-management systems like WordPress and said that migrating to mobile-optimized designs is doable and affordable. Converting some older content could require more work and time, she said.

"Fundraising is always very important for nonprofits; that may be a place where nonprofits want to prioritize," Ms. Coppock said.

Beth Kanter, a technology consultant who specializes in nonprofits, said that the changes should not be cause for panic. She worked with her web-developer to make her namesake site mobile friendly, and good developers should offer mobile optimization as part of their general work for nonprofit clients.

During the last three years, she has watched mobile traffic on her website climb from about 3 percent up to 20 percent, she said.

In some ways, the changes to the Google algorithm create an opportunity for nonprofits to study their web traffic, coming from both desktop computers and mobile devices, Ms. Kanter said.

"I think it is kind of a good thing because if people were procrastinating, this brings it up a little further" in terms of urgency, she said.

Send an email to Megan O'Neil.