If mobile search engine optimization (SEO) has taken a backseat in your marketing strategy, Google just dialed up the pressure for businesses that want to stay competitive. Appropriately dubbed “Mobilegeddon” or “Mobilepocalypse,” Google will start using mobile friendliness as a ranking signal in search results on April 21. Mobile-friendly sites will get a boost, while sites with usability issues on mobile devices will significantly drop in ranking.

Since Google’s announcement, Elance-oDesk has seen an increased demand for mobile-related design and development skills to help companies with the change — which is no surprise, since no businesses are exempt from this change and it will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide. With 80% of all adults now owning a smartphone and 2 billion people worldwide expected to get them by 2016, mobile matters more than ever.

In my conversations with clients trying to optimize their sites to meet the new mobile guidelines, I’ve gathered some insightful tips as to how businesses can get their sites up to speed.

Here are 4 steps to ensure your site doesn’t fall prey to Mobilegeddon.

Step 1: Test your site. There are a few ways you can test your site’s mobile-friendliness. First, you can simply view your site’s listing in Google search results on mobile. If the “mobile-friendly” tag does not appear beneath your URL, your site needs to be updated. You can also enter a web page URL in Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to see how well it performs on a mobile device. If your site fails, it needs to be updated. If it passes, it may still need improvements before earning the “mobile-friendly” tag. You should test your site in Google’s PageSpeed Insights test for a full rundown on issues that affect its search rankings.

Step 2: Learn what constitutes mobile-friendly. Google considers a page “mobile-friendly” if it does the following:
* Uses text that is readable without zooming
* Sizes content to fit the screen, so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
* Avoids software that isn’t necessarily supported on mobile devices (e.g. Flash)
* Spaces links far enough apart that the correct one can be easily tapped.

Step 3: Identify the right fix. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and PageSpeed Insights detail your site’s issues, and there are a few options available to address them.

In order to be mobile-friendly, your site must be configured in one of the following ways:
* Responsive web design: Google’s recommended option, a responsive site uses the same HTML and URL across devices and renders the appropriate display for the user’s device through CSS.
* Dynamic serving: This configuration entails using the same URL but a different version of HTML to serve different device types.
* Separate URLs: This method serves different code to different devices using separate URLs, by employing HTTP redirects.

Even if your site is mobile-friendly, you need to ensure that Google sees it that way by signalling its mobile configuration. The process to do this will vary by configuration. For example, for responsive pages, you need to add a “meta viewport” tag to the head of the document to signal to the browser how to adjust the page for different screen sizes.

You also want to ensure that Google’s algorithms can crawl your pages. Be sure to allow access to your page and its assets (JavaScript, CSS and image files) for Googlebot to crawl. Refer to Google’s Mobile-Friendly guide for detail on these and other pitfalls to avoid.

If your site was built on a CMS (e.g. WordPress), your options may include:
* Convert your existing site to a new mobile-friendly theme (could require just a simple update process, depending on your CMS and what’s available).
* Create a new mobile-friendly version of your site, keeping your desktop site the same.
* Customize your site to make it mobile-friendly (will require CSS, HTML knowledge).

Be sure to backup your site before updating it or making any changes. Consult guides from both Google and your CMS provider for more details on your options.

Step 4: Make it a priority. Mobilegeddon is just days away, so making your site mobile-friendly should be a top priority now — not later. As a ranking signal for search results, mobile usability will be an important factor in where your site shows up in search results on mobile devices, allowing you to gain much better visibility come April 21. Plus, you’ll deliver a better search experience to the growing number of mobile users.

Rich Pearson is SVP of Elance-oDesk. In his role overseeing the international strategy of the company, Rich travels the world learning about and sharing insights on the future of work. He also manages the company’s business development with partners including the World Bank, SamaUSA, the World Economic Forum, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Prior to joining Elance-oDesk, Rich led business development and marketing at Posterous through its acquisition by Twitter, and he previously held senior roles at Yahoo, Attributor, Homestead, Segasoft, and Del Monte Foods. 

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