When Google officially announces changes to its search algorithm (the sorting mechanism that determines how prominently a specific business or product is ranked by the Google search engine), e-commerce businesses sit up and take notice.

For quite some time, Google has indicated that mobile search soon would be a significant ranking factor. We already know that Google has added “mobile-friendly” to search results as well as a mobile usability report to its Google Webmaster Tools (GWT). In March, Google removed any lingering doubts, announcing: “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.” This announcement went on to say that the change would affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide, and would have “a significant impact in our search results.”

In other words, after this date, companies with mobile-friendly websites can expect to receive better (higher) rankings in searches. Google usually doesn’t provide users with a heads-up on pending changes, let alone provide a specific date. Industry analysts believe this departure from the company’s usual practice is intended to motivate laggards – who’ve adopted a “head in the sand” attitude – to take action without delay.

Although Google has provided an early warning on pending logarithm changes, the company has not provided much detail. Industry experts have been able to pry few details out of Google. Notably, they expect that tablets will not be affected by the update and that Google is planning a dedicated mobile index. If you are planning to launch a mobile website in response to Google search engine changes, industry experts suggest you consider the following.

Responsive Versus Dedicated Mobile Websites

A responsive website is a standard website that guides a mobile device on how best to display it. Responsive websites work across all types of hardware – desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smart phones. On the downside, some e-commerce experts think that dedicated websites developed specifically for mobile devices work faster and are more user-friendly. Some believe mobile sites have a better conversion rate, delivering a higher ratio of sales per hit than responsive websites.

Cost Factors

Mobile-only website designs are simpler and usually cost less to build. Responsive websites can be adapted to fit all standard resolutions, but they are more complicated to construct and have a higher upfront cost. A responsive website allows you to make content revisions and updates just one time. If instead, you have multiple websites designed to fit different screen sizes, you’ll have to duplicate the same updates for each version of your website. It is also simpler and cheaper to build links for one site rather than links for two or more. Therefore for many companies, it is cost-effective over time to utilize the responsive option. However, before basing a choice solely upon cost, it is worth considering that Google already has shown a predilection for the responsive website configuration – citing reliability as a key factor.

How you prepare for Google’s focus on mobile-friendly sites will depend upon the nature of your business, and how your customers access and use your website. Change is coming and the countdown to April 21 is underway.