Google Algorithm to Favor Websites That Work on Mobile Devices

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In a major update, the search giant has announced that on April 21, the algorithm will be updated to favor websites that are designed to work on both mobile and desktop devices, now often referred to as Responsive Website Designs.

Does your practice have a responsive website?

Google has had multiple mobile initiatives, including the GoMo campaign where the company provided free tools to help small businesses build websites that worked on mobile devices without the dreaded pinching, resizing, and squinting. That campaign had limited success because the technology didn’t quite work as elegantly as possible, but just last week Google took its most aggressive approach yet by declaring that they were going to start penalizing websites that did not have mobile capabilities.

Once referred to as mobile-friendly website design, geeks refer to it simply as responsive website design now. So how does one get a mobile-friendly, er, responsive website?

There isn’t a simple patch to make your website design work on mobile devices in a patient-friendly way.

If your website requires pinching and resizing to work today, the bad news is that you will likely need a new website. There are sites like Google Website Builder (check out their directory of approved vendors and case studies) or Duda Mobile, but the problem is that many of these vendors don’t offer HIPAA compliant solutions or simply redirect mobile visitors to a second website that acts as a mobile-friendly microsite. Microsites are truncated versions of websites that for some reason don’t seem to have the same level of success as a truly responsive website that offers a singular user experience.

If you’re willing to rebuild, there are beautiful and responsive designs that can be purchased for under $75 at design marketplace websites such as themeforest.net.

I’ve seen practice owners and their website agencies find good success with these designs, many of which are responsive. In fact, these websites are so popular that many website agencies simply take designs from Themeforest and charge for customization and website hosting.

Why the change from Google?

Many practice owners I talk to are shocked when we look at their analytics and tell them over half of their traffic is coming from mobile devices.

“Not in this part of the country,” or “Can’t be; my patients are older,” are common phrases I hear, but the fact of the matter is that iPads are selling briskly to the over 60+ crowd, often a gift from their children who see it as their parent’s first “personal computer.”

Ironically, this last Christmas my mid-sixty year old parents and I spent the holidays watching Apple TV (at their house) while my mom watched a Korean version of Netflix on her iPad and my Dad proudly announced that the game he was playing on his Android phone was, “totally free—I’m not paying anything for this.” He seemed quite pleased with himself at this discovery.

The trends clearly indicate that the Viral Cycle Time (what Venture Capitalists call the phenomenon of one user influencing another person to become a user) is so short with the adoption of mobile devices that what was once for educated twenty and thirty-something year olds has now become a way of life for people of all ages. In other words, it’s smart to bet on mobile websites for doctors!

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It’s also well known that visitors to your website simply do not like viewing non-responsive website designs on their mobile devices.

The abandonment rates (the measure of how quickly a patient abandons your website) can be up to 7x higher for non-responsive websites.

So it makes sense that Google, in its quest to improve user experience, would decide to hasten the push to responsive website designs by leveraging its most powerful asset—the ability for your practice website to go up or down in the rankings.

How much will this cost?

While the responsive designs can be bought relatively cheap, the cost will come in customizing the template, creating content for it (patient reviews, blogging and before and after images work best) and hosting it. Avoid free website hosting companies as they are bad for SEO, or those that do not have a 24/7/365 support line—you’ll regret it later.

What’s the most important part of a responsive website?

Over the years I have found the top three most important responsive design features for patients are:

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#1 Authentic Patient Reviews: Testimonials from patients that have no picture, and whose profiles don’t link to their authentic profile (their Yelp, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter page) simply are no longer trusted by the public. You want to have patient reviews that are indexed in search engines and shared on Facebook.

#2 Booking Online: The ability to book an appointment online is critical to capturing a new patient’s interest while they’re on your website. Simply offering a phone number with an answering service will not yield the results that online booking will.

#3 Secure Message: Now this is a bit of a misnomer because patients would rather openly email or text than send a secure message (but hey, it’s the law called HIPAA) but they do like the idea that their medical provider is accessible. Having a “Secure Message” button on your new responsive website not only tells the public your practice is modern, it tells them that your practice is accessible. Note: this does not mean that patients need to message you directly, but the ability to message the office manager also passes on this goodwill effect with new patients.

April 21 is around the corner. The time to make a change is running out as far as Google is concerned.

John Sung Kim is the founder of Five9 (NASDAQ: FIVN) and the General Manager of the DoctorBase division of Kareo. He has consulted as a product and marketing consultant to numerous government agencies, VC funded startups and publicly traded companies.

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5 replies »

  1. Great post John. A True forecast of how important mobile indexing is now. Definitely looking forward fo more of your posts

  2. Mobile friendliness is officially a ranking factor. Using responsive design theme is easily the 1st advice I could give to my WordPress site client.

  3. Great tips John!

    I think mobile usage has grown too big to be ignored by Google.

    Now the day has finally arrive…let’s see what happens in the next 24 hours…

    Robin Ooi

  4. Great question John. Many websites that have large volumes of medical content – especially clinical or provider oriented – are not optimized to be read on mobile devices with tiny fonts, banner ads that break alignment, etc.

    I suppose in the near term it will mean we see more startups in search results since they tend to have more modern website architectures, but once the large publishers upgrade, I believe they will be back dominating the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages).

  5. Interesting post, John.

    But I do worry that this is going to have an impact on patient searches for reliable health information that is a little hard to predict. This is obviously something you’ve spent a good deal of time researching.

    Any predictions on what the impact of this is going to be in the wider healthcare ecosystem?