In the high-stakes world of SEO, it’s big news: Beginning April 21, Google will use “mobile-friendliness” as a ranking signal. This means that mobile-optimized sites will be featured more prominently in mobile search results.
No big surprise here. Google has already rolled out a “mobile-friendly” label for compliant sites. It’s part of the snippet, as seen in Airbnb’s mobile search result.
Industry experts say the new algorithm has been a long time coming. But some predict that the changes will affect more sites than Google’s previous algorithm updates, Panda and Penguin. Considering the shakeup those updates caused—Expedia and eBay were a couple of big names that suffered penalties—the mobile update is something site owners should take seriously.
Why Mobile Matters
An estimated 50% of Google searches are initiated on mobile devices—and that number is expected to only increase. To keep your visitors on your site, you have to provide them with a smooth, rewarding mobile experience. (More on that in a minute.)
But beyond that, mobile-friendliness is a touchstone. A site that looks terrible on a handheld device shows a company that’s behind the times—no different, really, from using Comic Sans or animated gifs.
Mobile visitors who encounter a site that’s not mobile-friendly will likely leave and go to a competitor’s site. And that’s exactly what more than half of them do, according to some studies. So making your website look fantastic on any screen isn’t just good for Google—it’s good for business.
How Will the Update Affect Your Site?
Before you know what this update means to you, you’ll need to assess your current mobile-friendly status. It takes a few simple steps.
First, use Google Analytics (or your web analytics tool) to see what percentage of visitors come to your site on a mobile device. Understand that this number is just a snapshot of a point in time; this number will certainly increase as mobile devices become the preferred way to browse the web.
Pay particular attention to what they’re looking for (keywords), what pages they bounce from, and how long they spend on your site.
Next, assess your mobile-friendliness by entering your URL into Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test page. You’ll either pass with flying colors, as a site like Amazon does, or get some constructive criticism.
For example, Google has plenty of suggestions for an army surplus website that has small text, scrolling issues, and other no-nos for mobile.
Finally, if you use Webmaster Tools (and if you don’t, the free tool is highly recommended) you can view your Mobile Usability Report, which is a list of mobile usability issues across your site.
What Your Mobile Visitors Want
A solid content strategy means delivering the right content to people—when they want it and how they want it. And increasingly, “how” is via a mobile device.
A mobile-first mindset can provide a satisfactory visitor experience, improve conversion optimization, and leave your visitors with a positive impression. A few principles can help ensure you’re achieving good mobile design.
Consider responsive design. A website that’s responsive changes and responds to fit any screen or device size. Elements are stacked and reconfigured on smaller screens, presenting a layout that’s easy to navigate with the swipe of your finger. If you’re using an open-source content management system like WordPress, this may be as simple as updating your theme. If the theme is no longer being updated, you may decide to switch to one that is responsive.
But remember that performance matters most. Simply put, visitors want a lightning-fast mobile experience. Consider two common uses for our phones: multitasking and spending idle time. We search for recipes while grocery shopping or check Facebook while waiting for the dentist. Yes, we expect a nice layout, but not at the expense of speed.
Avoid common mistakes. Get rid of PDFs where a HTML page will do. Avoid Flash and other players that aren’t supported on mobile devices. The same for tiny text and links that are too close together—this will only frustrate your visitors.
If you stay focused on what’s important—providing a positive web experience for your visitors, no matter how they’re accessing your site—it will help guide your successful mobile strategy.
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