Preparing Your Website for the Upcoming “Mobile-Friendly” Google Algorithm Update

Later this month we’ll be seeing Google roll out its new algorithm favouring mobile-friendly sites and rewarding them with higher search result rank. This news came in after Google launched its mobile-friendly label for mobile search users and was announced at Google’s Webmaster Central Blog.

With more up to 80% of website traffic from mobile devices, this update can never be so timely.

Mobile friendly label

Mobile friendly label appears whenever somebody searchers the browser through mobile phones. Officially launched last November 2014 after months of testing, the label aimed to help mobile phone users identify beforehand the sites that are optimised for better mobile experience.

It may come out like this in your mobile phone:

google-mobile-friendly-label

Image Credit: Search Engine Land

For this label to be applied to your site, there are some general requirements including:

  1. Non-inclusion of software, like Flash, that is not commonly used on mobile devices
  2. Readable text even without zooming in
  3. Content resizes to the screen size, no need to scroll horizontally
  4. Proper spacing in between links for easier tapping

Mobile-friendly sites and ranking

The target date for the algorithm that will include mobile-friendly sites in search results is April 21st. For marketers whose websites are already mobile-friendly, this can be a positive news. To those who had their website developed before mobile optimisation was common, then this can be a huge challenge. It’s either move your current website to a responsive framework or redesign the website to accommodate the framework.

Marketers saw this update coming, with news of it circling the tech world for some time. Its impact is likely to be significant with Google promoting the algorithm update as beneficial for users since “users will find higher quality results”.

The update will mark the search engine giant’s big step in recognising the importance of mobile and its role in search engines. The announcement was made ahead of the algorithm being rolled out, Google says, to give website owners time to prepare their sites.

So why the roll out? What has Google got to gain from this?

In a study by Google conducted by an independent firm, this new update will be benefiting the search engine as much as the users. According to the study, up to 75 % of mobile device users prefer a mobile friendly site, while 48% of users felt that websites that weren’t mobile friendly indicated that the company didn’t care about their business.

In turn, this will benefit Google more since mobile friendly searches will give better and more relevant results, prodding more people to use the search engine. The more people use Google, the more exposure Google AdWords get. More AdWords exposure, the better the revenue and stocks for the search engine giant.

How to prepare for the update

So, are you prepared?

Checking on your website’s preparedness, you can use Google’s mobile usability report or its mobile friendly testing tool. Google’s Webmaster Tools account can also help you get full list of issues in mobile usability. Webmasters recently received reminders from Google about their pages that have mobile usability errors thus ranking lower in mobile searches.

A quick test though can be done through Google’s Mobile Friendly test that would say your site’s problem based on its quick analysis. Here’s an example of Google’s recommendation when your website falls short of mobile-friendly points.

20150315213105

Google pointed out four reasons why this particular website did not pass mobile-friendly standards, and offered suggestion and a guide on the left part of the screenshot as to how to make it friendly. On the other hand, when Google deemed that your website met their standard of mobile friendliness, this is what will come up.

20150315213331

 

If your mobile friendly test yields the same result as our first screenshot, the possible consequence could be less traffic and difficulty in ranking higher.

So how do you prepare and achieve these mobile-friendly goals? It’s suggested that you either turn on a mobile site (adaptive) or go for a responsive web design. Let’s examine the advantage of each.

Mobile Sites

Both mobile sites and responsive design may optimise websites into a better mobile experience, but each has its own benefits.

A mobile site is an exact copy of your website wherein the server optimises the page to be smaller and easier to navigate. Usually, it is delivered via an m. domain (ie an “m” marker domain name such as m.xen.wpengine.com). This though can hurt traffic and adds complexity since it managing two separate sites.

Responsive Design

Responsive design on the other hand is a flexible solution. It keeps your domain, does the work automatically, adjusts website according to screens size and orientation and can switch easily. Link equity is preserved in responsive design.

Responsive design is perceived to be forward thinking and may last for years with little programming needed.

Comparing both, a mobile site can be cheaper compared to redesigning responsively but can be costly in terms of the maintenance expense. Responsive design can be expensive at first but is likely to return better over time.

The choice of which though may depend on the focus of your website and your needs. Google though seems to lean toward responsive web design as its recommended configuration.

What This Update Tells Us

This newest Google update is a huge one. Marketers should have one thing to be thankful about it: it was announced ahead of time (unlike its preceding Penguin update). And fortunately for those who are already mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive, this can be a good news for better ranking results. For those who seem to be far behind the trend, this will mean less mobile organic traffic and lower Google rank.

The move acknowledges the fact that the way of internet browsing is changing and it is shifting focus into mobile. And for now, the reality is, website owners have little  choice but to provide mobile support.

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Roelen Fernandez

Roelen researches, creates, tailors content for outreach and content promotion campaigns as well as social presence management. She likes poetry, blues and crime books.

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