The new Google mobile-friendly updates that rolled out on April 21, 2015 change your web page rankings for web searches performed on mobile platforms. The new algorithms employed affect search rankings on all mobile devices, and apply to rankings of your individual pages, not your entire website. According to Google mobile-friendly update FAQs, the update will boost page rankings of mobile-friendly pages in mobile search results worldwide while lowering rankings of pages designed only for large screens. Several factors influence search engine results page rankings, and a webpage with the best content will still come out at the top of the listings. Even so, over 40 percent of Fortune 500 company websites could be affected by the new updates.
The Google algorithms define mobile-friendliness as using legible fonts, keeping the page within the device view window so that users don’t have to zoom or swipe to view information, and keeping enough space between buttons to accommodate adult fingers. The Google developer’s blog defines a mobile-friendly site as one that a smartphone user can easily read and use by just scrolling up and down. In addition, mobile-friendly sites avoid using Adobe Flash technology due to its incompatibility with iOS devices or Android 4.1 or later devices. Your mobile-friendly web page has graphics that are sized for the mobile screen, text that reads easily just by scrolling, buttons and links that are easy to select, and all the same functionality as the desktop version of your web page.
Google’s recommendation is to have websites offer the same functionality across all desktop, mobile, and tablet platforms. Amazon.com, Wikipedia, Facebook, National Geographic are some examples of mobile-friendly, tablet-friendly and desktop-friendly web pages. Google had already introduced a “mobile-friendly” tag on its search results, and earlier had started calling out the use of mobile-unfriendly Flash on websites. The mobile-friendly tag (just underneath a search results URL) is visible only when you use a mobile device and is not seen from desktop machines or tablets. Either it’s present or it’s absent. There is no partial score, no “50% mobile-friendly” rating.
To check the condition of your web pages, your web developers can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to test individual pages. The Googlebot will fetch the text and resources used by your page, create an image of how it appears on a mobile device, and give it a pass or a fail. The tool calls out ways in which a page fails such as “Text too small to read”, “Mobile viewport not set”, or “Links too close together”. It will report blocked resources and offer suggestions on how to make the page mobile-friendly. Google’s comprehensive Webmaster Tools can also produce a full list of mobile usability issues for your entire website using its Mobile Usability Report.
Mobile devices usage is near ubiquitous, and the proportion of mobile web-browsing over desktop browsing is increasing in key areas. As reported by Millenial Media, 56 percent on online media is now seen from mobile devices compared to 44 percent of web browsing taking place on desktop computers. Internet usage has increased to 201 million users in the last 12 months. However, mobile browser usage grew nine times faster, whereas desktop users decreased by 45 percent, illustrating the accelerating switch to the mobile platform. The areas in which mobile-only usage dominates are streaming radio, games, social media, weather, and retail.
Smartphone use is a given with apps like Twitter and Instagram. However, if you are in retail, you also know that mobile commerce is an area where mobile usage is increasing, and mobile-friendly design can have an immediate impact. Although smartphone users can swipe, zoom, and pinch desktop versions of a website, those operations make viewing content on their mobile screens more frustrating, and that can prompt them abandon a mobile-unfriendly website. MediaPost reports that mobile shoppers are especially impatient and, according to Maxymizer, 30% can translate their dissatisfaction into visiting a competitor’s website instead.
Although the Google mobile-friendly updates were touted as having a greater impact than some previous page ranking algorithms such as Panda and Penguin, the actual rollout seems to have taken place smoothly. The Google mobile-friendly updates incorporate a significant change in the Googlebot webcrawler indexing that are comprehensive for Google data centers, but transparent to the outside world. Mobile webpages will be indexed by separate webcrawlers than those optimized for desktops, thus leaving desktop and tablet search results unchanged.
If your web page rankings have been lowered by the new update, you will have to test your web pages and website with Google’s webmaster tools or third-party tools, and make the needed changes. Once the corrections have passed the Mobile-Friendly Test, it may take a few days for the Googlebots to circulate again and rerank your new page. The reward could be increased site visits from mobile device users, and enhanced revenues from your mobile-friendly online presence.