Google recently announced that it will be expanding their use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal in its search engine. The company says it will have “significant impact in our search results”. These changes follow a number of previous attempts by Google to improve its search results for mobile users.
The unusual thing about this announcement is that Google has used the words ‘significant changes’, usually they are not so direct in telling users that the changes will be huge. They have also named the day the changes are taking place (21 April) – something they rarely do. These two things combined mean that this is going to be a massive change, and businesses need to be aware of it.
What does this mean for website owners?
Well in simple terms, that mobile-friendly sites will see a large boost in rankings, which will leave owners of non-mobile-friendly sites lagging behind. To stay ahead of the competition you will need to make sure your site is suitable for mobile devices.
At the moment it looks like it will (possibly) only affect the mobile search rankings (when someone uses Google to search on their mobile phone or tablet) but it is suspected that the mobile-friendliness of a website will also impact desktop rankings in the future.
Google is making these changes as users are often unhappy with the websites they find in their mobile search results – many sites are still very hard to view on mobile phones and often don’t work very well. The use of mobile devices to access the web has increased by 67% worldwide over the last 12 months according to StatCounter and is continuing to grow.
Google’s own statistics have said that:
- 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble with
- 40% said they’d visit a competitors mobile site instead
Google wants to make sure that the websites its users find through the search engine work well on the device they are accessing them on (e.g. if they are searching via Google on a mobile phone then any website they try to access through the search engine should look as good on a mobile phone as on a desktop computer). Hopefully the changes will encourage website owners to make their sites mobile friendly – from the statistics above it seems a sensible idea as you could lose out on business if your site doesn’t work well on a mobile.
The excellent video below by Google employee John Mueller, walks us through some of the reasons behind the change and what we should look out for:
What is a mobile friendly website?
There are three types of mobile friendly site: responsive, dynamic serving and dedicated mobile. In one of my previous blog posts I described the difference between all three.
But, most importantly, the main similarity between all three is that they make your content and layout mobile appropriate. This means that the site will always fit the width of the mobile screen, the text is easy to read on a mobile, buttons and links are easy to click, and menus work.
Google also penalises your site if it’s largely Flash-based as most mobiles don’t support it. You can have small Flash elements as long as they do not make up the bulk of your website.
Give your site a test
Google has a testing tool to see if your site is mobile-friendly, you can find it here: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly.
To use it you just enter your website address and it lets you know if your page is mobile friendly. I entered my company’s homepage into the tool and, as you can see from the screenshot to the right, got the response “Awesome, This page is mobile friendly” – phew!
What if your site fails? Don’t worry there are things you can do…
Seven weeks isn’t long enough for most businesses to make a full change so don’t panic at this stage, there are going to be plenty of businesses that can’t go fully mobile-friendly before this update is rolled out. Also, no-one will actually know the scale of the effect until 21 April and the few weeks afterwards.
Have a look at your competitors, do they have mobile-friendly sites? If none do, then your traffic probably won’t drop too much – you’ll all be in the same boat.
The best way to see who is ranked as ‘mobile-friendly’ is to do a Google search on your mobile phone.
You’ll see in the image to the left that sites that are deemed mobile-friendly by Google have a small piece of grey text just before the description that says ‘Mobile-friendly’.
See how you currently rank compared to your mobile-friendly competitors – they will be your biggest search engine rivals when the new algorithms come in.
If your site is built using a CMS like WordPress, Google will likely have a technical guide like Google’s technical guide for WordPress on their Developers site that can give you details on how to make your site more mobile-friendly. They have an excellent list of content management systems that they have guides for, just have a look at their mobile-friendly websites advice page.
Monitoring your mobile-friendliness
Google likes your whole site to be mobile-friendly (every single page). If you use Google Webmaster tools (and I highly recommend that you do) then you can track the mobile-friendliness of every one of your pages via the ‘Mobile Usability‘ tracker (see image on right for a screenshot of how the tool looks).
This tool will help you identify any key areas of your website that cause issues on mobiles. As you fix the issues the amount of ‘error’ pages in the tool should continue to decrease until, hopefully, you have none (or very few).
If you’re unsure of where to go next then my best advice is to speak to a web design company for guidance, they will be able to help you discover how mobile-friendly your site is and give you some prices for upgrading it.
If you’re reading this before 24 March 2015, then make sure you check out Google’s Q&A session for mobile-friendly ranking change on YouTube, you can ask questions and there will be live chat and answers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-0Q4s9ThU0