Mobilegeddon” is a funny way of referring to Google’s latest change of its search engine ranking algorithm. Of course, whenever the world’s most-used means of finding things tinkers with the way it works, people are concerned and easily spooked. You can see how the changes affect overall rankings here. But this particular tweak only affects smartphone users and the websites they look at – which these days, may be a whole lot of people but it’s still nothing like an Armageddon, except possibly to panicky overworked web-designers.

Starting April 21, Google began ranking websites for smartphone users by how mobile user-friendly they are. But these rankings will only affect Google listings accessed by smartphones – traditional desktop, laptop, and also tablet user rankings will not be affected in any way. And it applies not just to entire websites, but page by page. This is Google’s way of encouraging website owners and developers to make their sites more easy to use on smartphones, where Web usage continues to explode.

Tiny screens and different needs

Surf on a cell-phone for a short time and the need for such modernization is soon obvious. Most websites that look great with huge pictures, small type, and plenty of fashionable white space on a nice large desktop or laptop screen look bad and are hard to navigate on a tiny handheld device. Scrolling and zooming all over the place can be very frustrating, and it’s hard not to get lost or confused.

Besides, mobile users are generally using the Web for altogether different purposes than when sitting behind a desk. Take restaurants for example. Many top of the line dining establishments have very sophisticated sites. They begin with a Flash animation of their swank joint featuring mouth-watering photos of dishes gliding by, assuming that anyone looking at it has time and the screen size to effortlessly savor as they ponder a pleasant future outing.

But most smartphone users are actively on the go when they look for a place to eat. They just want to find an open place nearby that has what they want at a price they can afford. Mostly they require ranking, menu, location, distance away and hours open, plus the phone number. That’s it. Lovely, lingering animations or slide shows can’t be seen, and aren’t appreciated anyway any more than the proud owner’s family history or glowing descriptions of their food providers.

There is a way web-designers can get around this. All modern websites use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to set the look of webpages. It is especially useful for those sites with pages whose content may vary or where there are many pages that need to look similar. CSS determines size and look of type, backgrounds, and pictures, and the overall layout and presentation of information as well. And it does so on the fly.

When a user accesses a webpage, her browser automatically tells the site what kind of browser and system she’s using. So it’s simple for that website to serve her up a CSS and content designed specifically for her system and screen size. And having that information is what Google uses to rate the page by mobile-friendliness.

A Google Webmaster Developers page that can tell you how mobile-friendly any site or page is. Just submit the site’s URL; it takes a few moments to scan and evaluate, but it even makes suggestions for improvement.

Fitting big sites on small screens

One of the buzzwords for a site that can appear nicely on screens large and small, is “responsive“. More pre-packaged websites have this option built-in; for example, there are already hundreds of WordPress themes available. And there are many designers who are picking up the skills necessary: if interested, start by checking out our Epromenade and Business Directory for local professionals.

However, not all websites need to be or even should be responsive. If it’s a site that requires time and attention, with lots of detailed information, graphics, or required input, perhaps it is best enjoyed in a traditional environment. Sites that meet real-time-driven needs, like restaurants, theaters, various shopping establishments and so forth, will best profit from adapting to the new specs.