Why having a Mobile-Friendly Site may be more important than ever

11 May 2015

Since the 21st of April this year, if your website isn’t mobile-friendly, it’s going to take a significant hit on Google rankings. For anyone dependent on search traffic, that is reason alone to check and update your site, but it’s also a worthwhile exercise in itself.

The Google change is both more and less dramatic than you might immediately assume. It’s more dramatic because the effects on rankings are believed to be even greater than the infamous ‘Panda’ algorithm update that hit poor-quality content. It’s less dramatic as it only has an effect on the main Google Search tool (not, for example, on News searches) and only affects results from people searching on phones, not those using tablets or the main desktop-oriented search tool. It also works on a page-by-page basis only, rather than affecting a whole site.

The key things Google is looking for when deciding a site is mobile-friendly are that pages automatically reflow to fit the screen size, that it doesn’t rely on overly-large graphics, and that they don’t heavily rely on content formats that are often unplayable on phones, such as Flash animations.

The good news is that you don’t have to rely on trial and error: Google offers an automated test that will check your page and tell you if there’s any reason it doesn’t consider it mobile-friendly.

Once you’ve made the required changes, you’ll need to make sure the website signals to Google and other search engines that it can deliver a mobile-friendly version.

This could be via a “responsive site” (one that uses CSS to alter the page when it detects a mobile browser), dynamic serving (one that delivers different HTML for the page when it detects a mobile browser), or by using completely separate pages for mobile and desktop visitors.

Unlike with some parts of its algorithm, Google describes its responsiveness to any changes to a site’s mobile status as “live.” In practical terms, that means if you fix or improve the mobile elements of your site, you should see the effects in the rankings within around three days.

As with most Google algorithm updates, this should be a case of its interests aligning with those of website operators — or at least those who are trying to serve their readers. Ultimately Google’s concern is that users trust its results to show them the best site for their needs. Somebody who Googles on their phone and finds the resulting sites difficult or impossible to use will get frustrated by the search process, even if the sites themselves contains high-quality, relevant information.

While keeping in Google’s good books is always key for site owners, this so-called “mobilegeddon” update should be taken as a good excuse to check and upgrade sites to be mobile-friendly anyway. Depending on the measurement, mobile use now makes up a large proportion, and maybe even a majority, of web activity.

Comscore reports that the number of people worldwide using mobile devices to get online overtook desktop use last year, see. Meanwhile Statcounter reported in January that in three major countries (Nigeria, India and South Africa) more than half of web page views are on phones, with the global average at a third and growing, see.

Either way, if you want to get people coming to your site, staying there, and taking action, it’s clear that now is the time to check your mobile credentials, both for Google’s sake and that of your site.

Thank you for reading. If you found this article useful, do get in touch. I offer consultancy and pro-bono advice to startups and scaleups. You can find out more about me and contact me here mikesmales.com

Software engineer and business builder. Entrepreneurship, Start-ups, Deep-Tech, Mobile, IoT, & AI. CTO @ PF Nexus. Former COO @ chirp.io. See mikesmales.com