How this man is profiting from 'mobilegeddon'

Mobilegeddon

With Google's latest big change in its search algorithm, "Mobilegeddon" is officially upon us. As of Tuesday, websites that don't work well on smartphones will start getting punished by Google's all-powerful search engine.

Robert Bowick, a 37-year-old web developer in the Detroit suburbs, is cashing in on the mania.

Back in February, as bloggers started throwing around the made-up word "mobilegeddon," Bowick's company, iHenix, shelled out 99 cents for the domain www.mobilegeddon.net. He decided to focus his one-person shop on helping small businesses that would largely be blindsided by the coming changes.

"There's been this huge scramble by businesses to get their sites mobile friendly," said Bowick, who started iHenix in June after a career creating websites. "What I realized is that small businesses would be impacted the most. These are websites designed five years ago that have been sitting there, they haven't done much with them, they're not mobile friendly, and they don't have the resources to do it."

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Bowick populated his new site, with "Mobilegeddon" in bold letters, the date April 21, and simply asked, "Are you ready?" He embedded a one-minute video that plays out like an apocalyptic movie trailer and ends with a promotion for iHenix. The video has been viewed more than 15,000 times in the past two weeks, Bowick said.

Google, whose search engine controls two-thirds of the U.S. market and upwards of 90 percent in many European countries, notified webmasters of the approaching algorithm change in a blog post on Feb. 26, and directed interested parties to instructions on creating a mobile-friendly site. The experience should be fast, clean, simple, adaptive to screen size, and everything should work, including the checkout process for an e-commerce service.

Responsive web design is the approach most developers are choosing. Bowick's mobile-fixing service starts at $399, including a $200 discount until April 21, and takes about a day to set up for simple sites. He runs every site he develops through a Google tester to make sure it's compliant with the new guidelines.

"They're trying to understand if your content can be consumed easily on a small screen," said Bob Egner, vice president of product management at EPiServer, a service that powers more than 30,000 websites.

Egner said the companies most at risk are those that haven't taken the time to determine the amount of traffic they get on mobile phones and the value of that traffic. Websites focused on business-to-business commerce and less targeted at consumers are those most likely to be slower to adapt, he said.

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"B-to-b companies have viewed mobile as being interesting but not something that was in their sphere of concern," he said. "They've been more concerned with having rich, large content available on big screens."

Bowick said he's worked on 15 to 20 sites in the past two months. To get the word out, he's spent a couple thousand dollars advertising on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And, just by virtue of owning the "mobilegeddon" URL, he gets a healthy number of panicked business owners.

"As soon as I heard the name, I said that's cool, let's get it registered, get the domain," Bowick said. "We wanted to get the word out to small businesses."

Correction--An earlier version of this story misspelled Mr. Egner's name.