Is Your Photography Website Ready for Google's Mobilegeddon?

Is Your Photography Website Ready for Google's Mobilegeddon?

On April 21 Google officially launched an important new algorithm which prioritizes "mobile ready" websites over those which are only formatted for desktops. The consequence, of course, is if you have a website that's not mobile ready, you should be prepared to see a dramatic drop in your search engine optimized (SEO) traffic. For many of us, as photographers, we also manage our own websites and find that SEO traffic is very important in getting our product out to a potential customer.

The news comes as no surprise as usage of mobile devices has skyrocketed over the last few years. More than half of Google's searches now come from a mobile device. The new update is seen as a necessary evolution in the Google search engine experience; One that Google feels is owed to its many mobile device users. Take a look at the graph below by comScore, which demonstrates how mobile usage has supplanted desktop usage as the main medium for computing needs.

How will the update affect my website?

This update is expected to be a big change to Google's searching experience; Even more so than the previous update — code-name Panda — which affected 11 percent of websites. Photo portfolios and studio websites which are not mobile ready webpages will appear lower in Google's search engine results. A non-mobile ready photography site can expect a drop of about two-thirds of their traffic, versus pre-update traffic. 

How can I find out if my website is mobile ready?

Google has kindly provided a service for just that. They call it the Mobile-Friendly Test Page. From here you can simply place your website's URL into their algorithm and it will let you know how it reads it. They've also provided several pages full of information on dos and don'ts as well as common mistakes and more.

A photography website's appeal to their algorithm is multifaceted, however there are a few that are more straightforward. One of the variables that the algorithm checks for includes text size, or having a text that's readable without zooming. Flash isn't always supported by mobile devices and photo websites who use it will be punished. In addition, having links that are well spaced so that they're easily touched, avoiding other unplayable content, and a mobile-specific URL (example:

How can I improve my photography website to be mobile ready?

There may not be any need to completely overhaul your site. One important distinction to note is that Google's algorithm is actually applied page by page, and not to an entire website. This is useful information because it means we can work on individual pages to improve our SEO traffic. Most specifically, it means working on pages that get more traffic than others: home pages, galleries, and so on.

Several hosting companies are offering to make mobile-ready versions of your site. Bluehost is offering it for a one-time fee of $25, whereas GoDaddy is offering the same service at $1 per month. A third-party company, Duda Mobile, is offering a similar service for $5 per month.

Why not look at this as an opportunity?

Here's a chance to be proactive and climb in Google's search engine results. More than two-thirds of Fortunate 100 companies aren't mobile friendly, according to research firm SumAll. Potential clients are clearly using mobile phones to look at potential hires now more than ever, and this trend is clearly going to continue. We may only be a few years from the desktop versions being viewed as the lesser in priority. For me personally, I know my website isn't up to par yet. It's time to crack some knuckles and get to work.

[via The Next Web]

Stephen Atohi's picture

Stephen Atohi is a film and fine art digital photographer based in Charleston, SC. His specialities are in portraits, weddings, and travel photography.

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This is all very beautyful and all, but as a developer I found this to be one of the most aggressive moves portrayed by Google so far. This is like "either you are with us or you die".
And this changes are even visible on the way Google Chrome behaves, on the last update (ver.42), things like Java and Silverlight stopped working, there's a way to go around that will be disabled in September aswell (NPAPI applets and plug-ins). Dick move by Google and I just hope other companies can make the best out of this.

I think on the contrary it's a sensible move. It's called "moving forward", they provide a better user experience for mobiles by further refining their search results, and they contribute to push out rather deprecated technologies.

I understand it can be problematic for certain slow-moving big organizations, typically government agencies and very large non-tech companies, but it's not like these specific changes are automatically promoted to a standard either (like, for example, the ongoing changes/discussions about HTTPS-only communication), it's more like selective pressure in the right direction.

Now imagine a company, tech one, based on IBM Websphere and Java plugins, having to drop Google Chrome. They made the change way to quick, 1.5 years does not give enough time for a radical software change.
Yes, evolution is good, and "moving foward" is what technology is all about, but damn it man, not like this.

I think it is important to note that nobody before the rollout was entirely sure what mobile ready would mean, what Google would categorically penalise and what they wouldn't.

We have been advising customers for a long time that going responsive is always a good idea and in this case this is a good way of being mobile ready, optimised images another.

One thing I need to point out about this article is that DESKTOP SEARCH IS NOT AFFECTED.

This update only affects your ranking when people search for a site from a mobile device. I realise that is more and more common, but it all depends on your target market, I guess if you do architecture or business photography these may be more likely searched from a desktop. Wedding may be someone on a tablet, you get the idea.

Also graphs like the one displayed really mean nothing. All that says is that from a lot of big sites the number of mobile users surpassed desktop, that is not always the case for every site and each site should evaluate their own visitor metrics before being freaked into paying big bucks for changes. By the measure of that graph Amazon and Bill the butcher would need to do the same thing to suit their customers.

Do yourself a favour and hear it from the horses mouth:

I think that you, of all people, should NOT use other people's images for your featured image without even mentioning the author. Just to be clear, the author of this fantastic image is Alex Koloskov and all about that you can see here:

Yes, Nikola, I had the same thought. While I was going to give FS the benefit of the doubt until they explained themselves. So Fstoppers...Where'd you get the image?

So, the questions about the image on the banner of this post have remained unanswered all day. I just sent a private email to Fstoppers about it. Let's see if they respond.......

Hey Steve, I just responded to your email but I'll respond here as well. The image was replaced once we found out it was a photograph made by Alex and not by Google themselves. We always contact photographers before using their work on this site unless of course the use of the image falls within the newsworthy arena in which legally it can be used to support a story without infringing on their copyright.

However, as I said in my email to you, this does bring up an interesting dialog since Alex may have been infringing on Google's trademark by creating that photograph in the first place. I don't think Google would necessarily pursue an action since the project was fairly benign but since he photographed the word "google" in a style that is very much associated with the brand, I'm not sure his work is totally in the clear legally either unless he was commissioned by the brand (and in which case they probably paid to own the work there after). Interesting stuff to think about for sure and I appreciate you calling us out in this case since that featured image did not originate from Google to begin with.

Trademark and copyright things aside, I think that you should take a look at Koloskov's work because, in my mind, he is one of the best product photographers today and your audience could largely benefit from his knowledge.

Oh I'm very aware of Alex's work as we featured him a lot back when FS was just getting started. Maybe it is time to reach out to him again for something in the future :)

Thanks, Patrick! I've been shooting all weekend and haven't had a chance to get on here.

Hi Patrick, hi guys! Just found this thread - and it is amazing:-) BTW, I do not mind this photo to be used for articles about google - and it was used many times everywhere - usually without a credit, but once asked people were adding credit with the link, which is great!
About this photo: we made it for our friends in Google as a present on 1st anniversary of G+. Google was granted all rights (we sent them hi-res and with proper rights release) to use it everywhere they want - and it was used on some of their internal publications.
For us, it was a self-promotion. and here is BTS video:


Thanks for chiming in Alex. We've loved following your work over the years.

Thanks for the reply and the food for thought Patrick. I probably got a little impatient there waiting for an answer.
As for Alex's exposure and where the law falls regarding his image I am genuinely stumped. I guess we'll have to wait until Google throws a fit and see what happens! Peace

Honestly I don't think there will be a real problem. Most of the photographers' websites I know have been made/refreshed in the last 2 years max, when everyone knows the trend of mobile usage is growing. Plus most of them are using platforms like Wordpress who have been pushing for a responsive if not mobile first design for a long time already. So there should not be such an impact.

And if your site isn't mobile friendly, it only means you're 2 or 3 years late and that you've lost a powerful marketing argument (= photographer keeps being up to date).

Squarespace ftw

Not every mobile user wants to view a mobile or tablet site.

Unfortunatelythe user will get less and less say in this matter moving forward. A good website, however, responds to the users device in a way that enhances the experience for the user. For ecommerce the stats very often back this up, with better conversion rates occurring on the mobile experiences tailored to the device you are using rather than serving desktop style content for all.

I'm going to come right out and say it. If a website isn't mobile friendly by now, you've got issues. Many people don't use their website and SEO to find clients, which is fine, but we are now in an age where too many people use phones and tablets to ignore that a website needs to look decent on mobile devices. People will be viewing your website via a link in their email, Facebook, whatever directly from their phone or tablet. They will not be running to their desktop to look at a website that isn't working, they will simply close it.

Responsive sites are the way to go... it's just a much better experience for the viewer than a dedicated mobile site IMO. There is something to be said for having a site that looks the same on a phone as on your desktop, just a level of familarity even if someone wants to switch what they view it on.

All of that being said, I tend to place myself more in the fine art world rather than the service world, and there are some really outdated websites out there I'm positive will be lost in the shuffle. I'm talking about websites that are 10 years old and only added new art rather than redesign. Many people think of their site as an electronic portfolio rather than a way to reach clients so the viewer experience was not much of a concern.

A point worth making though is that this is not your idea of a mobile friendly site or mine. It is Google forcing certain standards on the web, I'm all for standards but ones agreed upon by a non profit community would sit better with me, although that would always take longer.

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