On April 21st Google launched a search algorithm update that affects the mobile version of Google search results (what you see when you conduct a Google search on your mobile device). The updated algorithm increases the relevance of mobile-optimized websites in search results, and in effect, penalizes websites that it deems not mobile friendly. This change is not a surprise; Google announced it several months ago, but your search rankings will now start to feel the impact. 

What are the implications of this change?

As early as 2012, Google’s Multi-Screen World Study found that most searches - 65% - started on a mobile device. That trend has only accelerated since. So, if your website is not mobile-optimized, most of your potential traffic from Google search referrals will be negatively impacted. Since Google currently has over two-thirds of the search market, this update is a big deal, and should be a major consideration for your organic search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.

How does Google measure mobile friendliness?

Although Google keeps the details of its search and ranking algorithms closely guarded secrets, it has provided key high-level factors that impact rankings as far as web page mobile optimization is concerned:

  • Text has to be readable without tapping and zooming – so avoid fixed-size fonts or typography that doesn’t scale down well.
  • Tap targets (links, buttons, etc.) need to be spaced out appropriately – a finger on a touchscreen doesn’t have the precision of a mouse cursor on a computer screen.
  • Avoid unplayable content or horizontal scrolling – for example no fixed width tables or Adobe Flash content (of course you got rid of all your Flash content years ago…right?)
  • Page load speed – responsive design is great, but having your site configured to download, then hide, all of those awesome high res images through CSS isn’t the best approach and will definitely impact load speed; and watch for JavaScript bloat too.

The above points are just a quick summary. For more detailed info on what to do, and more importantly, what not to do, check out Google’s Mobile SEO Guide. Fortunately none of these guidelines are rocket science, they’re all common best practices for building great mobile-optimized websites.

But I already have a mobile-optimized site so I’m good, right?

Maybe. I’ve come across more than a few “mobile-optimized” sites that are far from ideal when it comes to actual usage on a touch screen device with a small screen. The most common issues tend to be typography and spacing - specifically font choices that are less readable as size decreases, and links, buttons and other targets that are not appropriately spaced. It’s really annoying when you can’t click on the appropriate menu item or link because those targets are all crammed together.

Page load speed is also a common issue. With faster cellular data connections, Retina screens and responsive design, we’re cramming more high resolution imagery and more complex JavaScript into web pages. All of this impacts both download and rendering speed. When building your site, focus on optimizing your JavaScript code and loading the appropriate image sizes based on your site visitor’s device resolution.

This is all useful info, but what should I do about it?

mobile friendly testFirst of all, understand how Google perceives the mobile friendliness of your website’s pages. Google has provided a Mobile Friendly Test tool that you can use to test the mobile friendliness of pages on your site (note that Google is evaluating/ranking the mobile friendliness of individual pages/URLs not entire websites). If this test identifies minor issues, Google provides resources and best practices for addressing them in its Mobile SEO Guide.

As always, keep an eye on your website analytics. If you see referral traffic from Google search or Google owned properties start to decrease, you know that you have a problem.

For more significant issues, this could be a great opportunity to redesign your website and create a fantastic user experience across all devices. To learn more about how SAI can help you reimagine your web presence or provide insight into your website analytics, get in touch, we’re here to help.