Google Goes Mobile Gaga! [UPDATE]
A long-held belief stated that Google gave more weight to websites that were compatible to mobile devices. This was based on the obvious reality that more and more people were searching the Internet using their iPhones and smartphones. Now, there is no more need for speculation or guesswork. Google has put their cards on the table.
With mobile usage now outstripping conventional desktop usage, Google has updated their algorithm to favour mobile-friendly devices, or to use the trending phrase, responsive websites—sites that automatically respond to changing viewer devices. [UPDATE BELOW: 14 October 2016]
On 26th February 2015, Google went on record stating:
Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”
April 21ST has come and gone, and the effects have been felt around cyberspace. Not only must a website be responsive (or have a configured viewport in Google’s language), but other factors need to be observed, too.
- Legible font size for zoom-free readability
- Compatible plugins
- No horizontal scrolling, or in Google’s language: size content to viewport
- Well-spaced links for easy tapping
Yes, I realise the closely-spaced hyperlinks on the above bullet points would make this page mobile unfriendly. But it raises an important point which I’ll pick up in a moment.
Google has just announced that it’s switching from a desktop-focused index to a mobile-first index. This is a game changer. It means design must now be mobile-to-desktop driven, not the other way around (as has been the case). This roll out will be done over months, so this is advanced warning.
This is certainly not unexpected even if it’s a little unnerving. Make sure you see our latest article on AMP 101: Essential FAQs & Help for Photographers.
Google’s Mobile Testing Tools
Google has made a Mobile-Friendly Test available, but it only tells whether your website is responsive or not.
You’ll get this thumbs-down if you’re not responsive.
You’ll get this thumbs-up if you are:
This is a good start, but you’ll have to be more initiative to determine just how well your website is performing for mobile devices. For this, you can use Google’s Pagespeed Insights for a closer inspection. It is not uncommon for websites that pass the mobile-friendly test to score woefully on the Pagespeed Insights for their mobile version.
Another option is to install Google Chrome’s Mobile-Friendly Checker Extension by Adam E. Whittles. In my opinion, this is an excellent resource and identifies problems in all the key areas listed above. (Tip: Give the extension some time to run a full analysis. Don’t get too excited when you see a high score straight away. The highest score is 100, and it often starts off there and deducts points as it runs its course.)
With these tools, and a little patience, you can improve your website’s mobile friendliness and maintain (or increase) your slice of SEO pie.
And now to that important point I raised earlier.
Google’s testing resources have a page-focus, not a website-focus. In other words, each page is tested on its own merits. This means that for most people, just getting the home page correct is sufficient. For example, I’m not bothered in trying to compete against the myriad of ‘authoritative’ articles on the subject of Google’s shift in favouring mobile-friendly sites (many of which I’ve listed as sources below). In this post, I hope only to serve my clients, and anticipate that most will view this kind of page content on a desktop or tablet. This is the kind of choice all webmasters need to make in deciding how to optimise their page and post content.