Mobile devices are now the go-to source for internet searches, so it’s only natural for Google to place a stronger emphasis on a website’s mobile performance. Last year, we saw mobile internet usage exceed that of PCs, with 80 percent of internet users using a Smartphone and 47 percent using tablets for internet searches.
In light of society’s increasing dependability on mobile devices, Google announced last week that the search engine giant will begin using mobile usability as a ranking factor for mobile searches. Starting April 21st, Google will use the mobile-friendliness of a website as a ranking signal to promote the mobile experience, stating:
“This marks Google’s much anticipated step towards delivering primarily mobile-friendly sites in mobile search. If you follow Google changes closely, the signs had been building up over the last few months.”
It should come as no surprise that Google has made this move as Google released recommendations for a mobile-friendly site late last year, allowing you to test the performance of your mobile site via their testing tool. That should have been your first sign to take mobile optimization more seriously; however, if you have yet to boost your mobile performance, now is the time to make the push to earn the “mobile friendly” label prior to the official launch of the ranking signal.
Check Your Website’s Design
According to Online Publishers Association, 99.5 percent of mobile users use their devices to access content or information, but 47 percent of those users admit that they will leave a website if it takes too long to load or offers a poor mobile experience. With 73 percent of mobile users reporting to have visited a website that provides a poor experience, Google is pushing to increase all aspects of mobile website performance.
The best way to increase the user experience is with a responsive website design that automatically adjusts to accommodate all mobile device screen sizes. With a responsive design, your site will be more appealing in Google’s eyes and attract and maintain more website visitors. There won’t be a need for horizontal scrolling, which Google says to avoid. You’ll provide mobile users with a simpler means to navigate your site without having to fight improperly configured page widths.
Stick with One URL to Avoid Errors
Although you can configure your mobile site to have different URLs for different devices, Google recommends that you only use one URL, stating, “Google recommends webmasters follow the industry best practices of using responsive web deign, namely serving the same HTML for all devices.” Plus, it’s just simpler for everyone to have one URL and one website that accommodates all devices, whether mobile or PC, due to redirect errors.
Redirects on mobile devices are still a huge headache, but they will be avoided by following Google’s recommendation for a one-URL site. This will also help reduce 404 errors to further promote the right content to be available to mobile users at all times. By avoiding irrelevant cross links that can lead to a mobile 404, check to make sure all of your links point to the correct page. Now, if you decide not to go responsive there are two other options that have just as much potential to rank well, if done correctly. Check Google’s mobile configuration guide to make sure you are set up correctly.
Customize Your Software
Certain websites using extended software packages, like Flash or pop-ups, won’t be compatible with mobile websites and will hurt your site’s load time and performance. Google recommends you avoid or customize any third party software that’s going to slow your load time or make your site difficult to use, which can cost you as much as 3.5 percent conversions and a decrease in mobile ranking.
Google recommends you use HTML5 standard tags for images and animations to be properly displayed on mobile devices to avoid hurting your site‘s performance. To promote usage for all devices, check your load time with Google PageSpeed Insights to discover any areas that may be slowing your performance.
Promote Navigation with Proper Text and Buttons
An important aspect of a mobile site’s navigation and function involves font size, links, and buttons. Google recommends you use an appropriate font size so users don’t have to zoom in to read content clearly.
In addition, Google encourages all links and website buttons to be properly spaced to avoid accidentally hitting the wrong option. When setting the width for navigation, always design to accommodate larger fingers. You can verify all of this is correct by looking at the Google usability reports in Webmaster Tools.
Fine Tune Your Mobile Apps
In addition to mobile usability, Google also announced that the search engine will begin using indexed apps as a ranking factor for users who have the app installed and are signed in. With 89 percent of mobile users accessing media through mobile apps, you want to ensure your apps are mobile ready to be properly indexed because you’re likely to start seeing apps displayed higher in search results. Google recommends you use a simple HTML banner to promote your app that’s inline with your page content, then support the app with the native browser.
Optimize Your Site
Although you’ll be working with less screen space, you don’t have to compromise your content. Strive to create killer content, and don’t forget to optimize the titles and meta descriptions.
With local searches a huge driving point on mobile devices, use local elements to optimize for local search. Google found 88 percent of internet users conduct local searches via mobile devices, so include your name, address, and phone number in your site’s metadata. Also, keep in mind local schema, reviews and use sites like Yext and Moz Local.
Test Your Mobile Performance
If you’re unsure about your site’s mobile performance, Google offers the Mobile Friendly Test Tool to quickly find errors that may hurt your site’s performance or ranking. For a mobile-friendly site, Google recommends:
- Avoiding software that’s incompatible with mobile devices.
- Use easy to read text that doesn’t require zooming.
- Make content fixed to screen size to avoid horizontal scrolling.
- Use proper spacing between links and buttons for easy navigation.
- Make sure your mobile site is really fast
By running your website through the testing tool, you’ll quickly find areas to address and learn exactly what you need to do to boost your mobile authority.
Prepare for the Road Ahead
With Google experimenting with mobile device usage and the mobile-friendly labels over the past year, it comes as no surprise that Google has made the shift to mobile ranking factors. Lets face it, everyone is always on their phone, which is causing a transformation in SEO. This transformation is only going to continue to expand, so the world of SEO as we’ve come to know isn’t going to be the same.
As technology continues to take over our lives and how we use it, Google is going to continue to push to meet society’s expectations when using the internet. Now is the time to make sure you are 100% mobile ready.
- “Google Launches Mobile-Friendly Site Testing Tool: Search Engine Journal
- “Finding more mobile-friendly search results” Google Webmaster Central Blog
- “Mobile Now Exceeds PC: The Biggest Shift Since the Internet Began” Search Engine Watch
- “Customize Your Website Software” Google Developers
- “Understanding Customers’ Local Search Behavior” Think with Google