Apr 28, 2015

If you're not mobile-friendly, Google's not your friend

A week ago today, Mobilegeddon hit the world. While I’m reasonably sure the Earth is okay, some of your mobile search results, and ergo, your organic traffic, will have taken a direct hit.

What happened?

Google started rolling out the mobile-friendly algorithm on April 21, giving precedence to sites that work well and look good on mobile phones over those that don’t.

It’s predicted that internet mobile use will overtake desktop use over the next couple of years, so it’s important that Google makes sure that the sites it suggests for its users get the best experience possible. Even sites with more relevant content will be ignored in mobile SERP over sites that are mobile-friendly. This global change affects search rankings on mobile devices, so it’s particularly important for local businesses, or those who rely on Google to bring traffic to their site.

What is a mobile-friendly site?

A site that is easy for a visitor to use is at the heart of a site being classified as mobile-friendly. Google looks at elements like font size (that is, you don’t have to zoom in to be able to read the text); button size (the buttons are big enough for you to select with your finger without having to zoom and realign the page); navigation and forms (you can choose from a drop down box easily); and playable content (for example, Flash files can’t be viewed on Apple’s iOS devices).

Tap-targets - size up for mobiles

Google actually recommends that site owners use responsive design. This means that the same content is served up, on the same URLs, but it adapts depending on the device you’re using. It just uses styling to change how the information is displayed. There are two other configurations of mobile-friendly sites – dynamic serving (where the URL is the same, but the information that displays is different depending on your device), and adaptive design, where a site has separate mobile and desktop sites. Responsive is recommended because Google doesn’t have to use a special ‘mobile bot’ to crawl it, like it does for a site that is served dynamically; and it doesn’t have to crawl two versions of the same site, like it does in adaptive.

How do you get ‘mobile-friendly’?

If your site is built with a content management system like WordPress, you should be able to either update your theme, or choose a new one that has responsive design. Many CMS platforms will have mobile-friendly updates available, and you should have heard from them recently if you’ve not updated by this stage.

If your site is not administered via a CMS, you will need to update manually. Set yourself up with Google’s Webmaster Tools, and it will show you the areas that you need to fix to get up to scratch. They’re likely to include page speed (making sure you don’t have unnecessary code or overly large images); viewport (this tells the browser what size to show the web page it when it); tap targets (buttons, drop-downs, that are a minimum of 7mm width/height, with some margin); and text size (minimum 16px). It’s also likely that you’ll need to change your container or body wrap to a percentage rather than a fixed width.

Responsive Web Design serves up the same content but changes the style

Okay, so what now?

The first thing you should do is test your site. Google has provided a tool that will examine individual pages, and will make suggestions and recommendations based on the results. If your site is not mobile-friendly, and mobile traffic is important to you, you’ll need to update.

As part of its #MobileMadness campaign, Google has also put together a very neat ‘how-to guide’ that can take you step-by-step through the process of getting mobile-friendly. This takes you through the usability tests, provides documentations on updating via many of the common content management systems, and demonstrates best-practice for mobile SEO.

If your site is not managed via a platform, or you’re looking for a more secure, all-in-one solution, get in touch with us. Bwired specialises in responsive design – check out our blog post for more information. The mobile-friendly algorithm is also a great opportunity for you to look at your site content and set-up, to get it performing at its best – on mobile, and on desktop. We can customise a plan that’s tailored to getting your site mobile-ready, and that focuses on your business needs. Call us on 1300 780 566, or send us an email.

Hayley is bwired's Marketing Manager, and handles the Services division. She splits her time between marketing campaigns, delving into clients' data, making stats presentable, and trying to compile pithy sentences. Read her Services blog, Digital Marketing blog, or Google Analytics blog.

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