As of April 21st last year, Google introduced an update to their search engine ranking algorithm that promotes mobile-friendly websites over ones that aren’t. The move was designed to help users get to more relevant and timely results irrespective of the device they’re using.
Google hasn’t managed to keep the title of the ‘world’s most popular search engine’ for over a decade by standing still. And they’ve certainly never been afraid to make changes based on existing or even predicted user behaviour. This change is targeted at both. They typically tweak their search algorithms between 500 – 600 times a year, but by anybody’s standards…this change is a biggun’. You can read the full article about the Google update here.
What Does Mobile-Friendly Actually Mean?
It sounds lovely and heart-warming, but it’s a fairly loaded term and one that’s actually quite difficult to define. In a purely technical sense ‘mobile-friendly’ means the website is coded in a way that it makes the best use of the mobile device’s capabilities. It’ll reshuffle its content to better fit the page, adjust font sizes for easier reading, switch out larger images for smaller, less bandwidth-hungry ones and tell the browser not to zoom in when the device is turned horizontally, to cite just a few examples. But it doesn’t end there.
In the above screenshots, notice how The Daily Mail website is simply squished down to fit on the screen. The text is illegible unless you zoom in and then you’d have to scroll sideways to read it. The Guardian website, in contrast, has reconfigured itself. Text and navigation are large and legible and there’s no horizontal scroll bar. I know which I’d prefer to use.
While it’s getting easier for web designers and developers to create technically mobile-friendly websites, there’s one element that can’t be automated or simply replicated and that’s the user experience. Mobile-friendly doesn’t and shouldn’t refer solely to whether the website ‘fits’ on the mobile screen. It should also take into account how pleasant an experience it is to use. Are links large enough to be tapped without zooming? Is the menu easily accessible or fiddly to use? Can you do everything on the mobile version that you would on the desktop? These are all factors in determining whether your website is truly mobile-friendly. Google is aiming to account for this with their most recent update.
What Does This Mean For Website Owners
While it’s not explicitly stated in the Google article, these changes are assumed to affect mobile only. So users browsing on mobile devices will be shown search results for websites that Google considers mobile-friendly and that are optimised for the user’s device. Those that aren’t will perform worse. If users are searching on a desktop computer, this change shouldn’t have too much affect on your rankings (SERPs) there, if any. But common sense should tell you that if your website is optimised for mobile, it’ll not just present a better all round experience of your business and brand, but also drive traffic to your website on desktop in the long-tail. Either way, you win.
How Do I Know if My Website is Mobile-Friendly?
To check if your website is mobile-friendly or not, you can use Google’s own Mobile-Friendly Test. What you want is this green affirmation that everything is good in the world and you can go about your business. If you don’t get that, it’s time to consider updating your website.
Even if you do get the green “This page seems mobile-friendly” message, it’s still worth actually loading your website on a couple of mobile devices and playing with it from your users’ perspective. You’ll soon get a sense of actually how easy it is to achieve certain goals on there. That in turn will give you an idea of how well optimised your site is to convert window-shoppers into customers.
Help! My Site isn’t Mobile-Friendly!
Ouch. It’s time to begin planning a revamp of your site and quick-sharp. Luckily, you don’t need to browse too far to find experienced and capable website designer who has specialised in designing for mobile devices for the last couple of years. White Heat Design builds responsive, mobile-friendly websites as standard and we don’t charge extra. We believe every website should be optimised for the widest range of devices available. It’s has become a de facto standard of the industry and you shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege. Drop us a line from our contact page and we can arrange to discuss your next steps over coffee :)