Google wants mobile-friendly website design… or else.

Google wants mobile-friendly websites

In April of 2015 Google announced an initiative to encourage website owners to make their sites “Responsive”. In the Internet world, Responsive means that your web page will render well on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. In other words it will be mobile-friendly.

In Google’s own words, “We’re boosting the ranking of mobile friendly pages on mobile search results”.

Should I be worried about this?

Well, yes… I’m not sure of the global statistics, but when I examine the analytics reports of my clients some 35% to 40% of visitors are viewing these sites on mobile devices.

Perhaps an analogy will help. If your bricks and mortar business relied on walk-in customers, would you be concerned if 35% to 40% of the people who entered your shop had problems opening the front door?

What does Google want me to do?

Google would like it if your web page had:

  1. A defined viewport that adjusts to screen size.
  2. Content that flows in the viewport so that viewers don’t have to pinch or scroll to see the entire page.
  3. Fonts that scale for easier reading on small screens.
  4. Easy to touch elements that are spaced so it’s easy to tap them on a touch screen.

A little clarification

Google’s new initiative:

  • Affects only search rankings on mobile devices.
  • Applies to individual pages, not entire websites.
  • While mobile-friendly changes are Important, we (Google) still use a variety of signals to rank search results – so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query.

If you can’t or won’t make your pages mobile friendly you better be sure your content is top-notch and optimized for search engines.

What if I don’t make the changes?

Remember this line from the first paragraph, “We’re boosting the ranking of mobile friendly pages on mobile search results”. Flip the statement on its head and it could be interpreted as – If my pages aren’t responsive they will drop in rank on Google mobile searches.

How can I tell if my site has mobile-friendly pages?

Visit Google’s Mobile Friendly test page.

Note that this tool will only test one page of your site at a time. To test more pages copy and paste the URL of each page into the testing tool.

One of two messages will appear when the tool has finished analyzing your page:

  1. Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly.
  2. Not mobile-friendly

 

If you got the “Awesome” response, congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back, stop reading this article and go back to what you were doing.

Google says “Not mobile-friendly”, now what?

You have a few choices:

Ignore it.

If you have determined that the number of visitors using mobile devices to your site is too small to matter, you could forget the whole mobile-friendly issue and carry on with your day. Personally I think you’d be fooling yourself, and even if it is true today it probably won’t be in the near future. Smartphones and tablets are firmly entrenched in our society. My personal opinion is that in less than a decade desktop and laptop computers as we know them will cease to exist. Long before that happens mobile devices will have become the go-to tools for Internet research.

Fix it yourself

If you built the site, either by hand-coding or by using a Content Management System like WordPress or Joomla, then you may be ready to tackle the problem yourself.

Content Management System (CMS) websites

Most Content Management Systems are able to use different themes or templates. Find a new theme you like, make sure it’s mobile-friendly and swap it for the old one. Yes, that is a gross oversimplification, but if you built the site yourself you should be able to deal with any issues that arise from the installation of the new theme or template. You can always switch back to the old theme if necessary. It goes without saying that you should backup ALL of the site before you begin, including the database.

Hand-coded sites

Google has created a pretty good resource for those who feel up to re-coding their site to make it mobile-friendly. Have a look at the Responsive Web Design Basics and the Responsive Web Design Patterns sections. If you understand the coding examples provided you’re probably ready to tackle this yourself. If you don’t feel you can manage it easily, contact a web professional to help you out.

Hire a Pro

If your web person is no longer around or is unable to assist, ask your business contacts who built their site, were they happy with the experience and would they use that person again.

Contact the web professional and chat with them about the mobile-friendly issue. Ask how they would deal with it. If they don’t ask to see the site before offering solutions, walk away. There are many ways to construct websites and I’ve never met anyone who knows them all. Ask to see examples of mobile-friendly sites they’ve constructed.

Get specific, if you have a WordPress driven site find a WordPress expert. Using Joomla? Find a Joomla wizard.

How much time do I have?

I’ve already started to receive notices from Google informing me that some of the sites I manage are not mobile-friendly (see below). You should deal with this sooner than later. I don’t know when the ranking of this site will start to fall but believe it will be a few months at the latest.

 

“Fix mobile usability issues 

Jul 23, 2015 – We’ve found critical mobile usability issues in pages on (URL removed). Mobile usability errors can severely affect the user experience of your site. Pages with mobile usability issues may be ranked lower in Google search results on mobile devices.

We recommend following Google’s Mobile Usability guidelines to avoid negatively affecting your site ranking on Google Search.”

 

What else can I do?

Make use of Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics (they’re both free). This is the easiest way to monitor your site’s performance and ranking.

You will need a free Google account to access Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics.

While neither of these tools are especially intuitive, there are lots of resources available to help you understand them.

And finally

While it may seem that you are being held hostage by Google, the opposite is true. Google has access to vast amounts of search data and if they say it’s time your site becomes mobile-friendly, it’s true. (No, I’m not a Google evangelist, I actually dislike several things about the Google world). My own research has shown a huge jump in mobile users on the sites that I manage and most of my new clients are asking for mobile-friendly sites right from the get-go.

Truth be told web site builders have had it pretty easy the last decade or so. No one was really holding our feet to the fire when it came to proper web site construction and it’s likely that many sites will start to see their rankings dip in the near future.

If you’re serious about keeping your website up to spec and search engine friendly, this is something you should definitely consider.

If your site is mobile-friendly I applaud you… but you may want research how it fares when measured against Accessibility standards. I think this will be our next big challenge and I think it’s long overdue (I’m painfully aware that my own site doesn’t measure up).