Earlier this month, Google started rolling out changes that reward mobile-friendly sites with higher rankings in search results. Wondering how Google’s revised search algorithm affects higher education? Is the end of the world upon us?!?!

Google’s aim is to provide a better experience for visitors using mobile devices by placing mobile-friendly results higher in the rankings. SEO experts are filling blogs with posts about high profile sites (Amazon! Food Network! The IRS!) poised to lose their lofty search ranking positions because of the change.

The reality of what this change means is a little more nuanced.

The change is underway but we don’t know the full impact of this search algorithm alteration. We do know that it means it’s no longer a luxury to have a responsive design in higher education – it’s becoming table stakes.

Unfortunately, you can’t make your non-responsive site responsive overnight, but there are a few things to remember that can help avoid panic and plan for the future:

All the other SEO factors are still very important.

Google says quality content that matches the intent of the search query is still the most important thing. The added weight for mobile-friendly pages is an adjustment to the search algorithm, but remember: These algorithms are very complex and include scores of factors, including location, the number of external sites linking to your content, the authority of your domain, and the use of keywords on your pages. This single change isn’t going to make or break your results.

The change only impacts mobile search (at least for now).

Visitors searching for your site on a desktop or laptop browser won’t see different results because of this change. We know visits from mobile devices are on the rise everywhere, but we also know a majority of higher education’s visits still come from laptops and desktops. Google’s algorithm is always evolving and this change aimed at search on mobile devices signals something most web managers are already aware of — the needs of mobile visitors differ from the needs of desktop visitors.

Google’s mission remains the same — to connect visitors with the most relevant results.

The goal is to help visitors find the best content for their search. SEO continues to be largely about your content, just as it has always been.

The big takeaway is ultimately nothing new. As our strategist Doug Gapinski blogged over three years ago, providing a good experience for mobile website visitors is increasingly important.

Google’s latest algorithm change is just another signal to higher education that we need to serve mobile visitors, and Google is going to reward those that do in search rankings. Your SEO position isn’t going to change overnight because of Google’s mobile-friendly change but the argument for responsive design is stronger than ever.

If you’d like to explore options for making your .edu site responsive, get in touch!

Greg Zguta

AUTHOR - Greg Zguta

I've been working on education web projects since the late 90's and enjoy visiting campuses and watching how technology has transformed higher education since I got my first email account at Oberlin College in 1992. Back then, I mostly used the web to check weather radar and sports scores . . . I suppose technology hasn't transformed everything yet. Find me on

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