As we’ve said time and again, mobile friendliness is extraordinarily important to your website. It’s about to become even more vital, as today Google rolls out an update to its search algorithm which specifically rewards mobile-friendly sites—and penalizes those who haven’t optimized for phones and other small devices.
It’s not really surprising that this change is coming; it’s (conservatively) estimated that 30% of organic website traffic originates from mobile devices, and that number grows larger every day—it could be as high as 70%, according to Web Designer Depot.
What is going to happen?
As of today, Google will begin factoring in mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal for mobile searches. This update will not affect desktop searches, nor the desktop version of your site. Up until now, desktop and mobile search engine results have been pretty similar; if you were in the top 10 for one, you were likely to be in the top 10 for the other. However, after April 21 this will no longer be the case; the two results will diverge, and customers searching on their devices may no longer see your site rank if it is not mobile-optimized. Google’s judgment seems to be all-or-nothing; either your site is mobile friendly, or it isn’t.
Dropping in mobile rankings is no joke, especially when about 1 in 3 users use their mobile device to find you. It’s been shown that mobile traffic often translates into desktop traffic, as a user discovers you on their device and then returns to your site on desktop to complete the conversion process. So there’s a lot of incentive to ensure that your site is responsive on all different devices and screen sizes.
What can you do?
Google has recommended that you check your website using their mobile friendliness tool, which can be accessed at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/. You do not need a webmaster tools account in order to use this tool, but it can be very helpful in assessing your site’s general health. If Google finds issues with your site responsivity, it will tell you what needs to be fixed.
If you’re unsure of where to start after grading your site, Google has compiled a guide to the most common mobile SEO mistakes. They include:
Always allow Google’s bots to see these files. You can determine your status by using the “fetch as Google” feature in Webmaster Tools.
Mobile users want to interact with your site the same way desktop users do. Always make sure that media and interactive features are mobile-compatible. Flash files, for instance, have trouble running on most mobile browsers.
Some people optimize their site for mobile by having separate mobile-only URLs, which is fine—but you need to make sure that your pages redirect properly to one another, and that they do this consistently across all device types and browsers. No one likes to get booted to the home page unexpectedly! Use Webmaster Tools’ Faulty Redirect reporter to find problematic URLs and fix them.
Some unoptimized sites will show desktop users content, but direct mobile users to a 404 error page. Be sure to redirect all pages to their mobile equivalent (if they’re different URLs); responsive designs will also help get rid of this problem.
App download interstitials
Many websites create their own apps, and encourage site visitors to download and use them. However, Google prefers a simple HTML banner across the mobile version of a website instead of a large interstitial, which can prevent the user from accessing the rest of the site. If you do have an app, keep your download prompt small and unobtrusive.
This is yet another issue which arises when a website has separate mobile-only URLs, and when their redirects do not point desktop pages to their relevant mobile counterparts. One common error is to have links point universally to the homepage.
Slow mobile pages
Mobile is no longer an afterthought; it should be a fundamental part of your site design from the ground up. Users have very little patience for slow websites at the best of times; when they browse on their phones, they want an even speedier experience. Make sure that your site loads quickly and easily on mobile browsers, or you’ll lose traffic.
These are just a few things you can do to improve your site’s mobile capabilities. If you’re not on the mobile-friendly train now, it’s best that you hop on; mobile and responsive web design is only going to become more important as time goes on.