Google expands ‘mobile friendly’ algorithm – will it affect your business?

Date: 21st April 2015
Author: Deri Jones

Today Google further expanded the use of mobile-friendliness in it’s ranking algorithm. The intention is to help make it easier for users to get relevant, high quality search results optimised for mobile. In a statement in February a Google stated the change “will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.”

It will mean that websites that have not been optimised for mobile devices will be moved down SERPs (search engine results pages) for mobile devices: an added incentive for retailers seeking that coveted first page position. Those companies who fail to address the issue of mobile attractiveness will be banished to the outer depths of the Google later pages.

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You can’t fail to miss the astonishingly high growth of mobile shopping particularly in the UK. Last year, UK sales through mobile increased by 80% for Amazon sites and by 88% for Dixons.

Mobile search is also strong, at the Search Marketing Expo conference in California last month, SEOClarity, demonstrated that 30% of organic traffic originates from mobile devices.

There’s a lot of money at stake in the mobile experience, but many retailers, however, have been slow to recognise the importance of mobile when it comes to the design and performance of their websites. A few years ago, organisations played little attention to how their sites performed on mobiles. In 2009 web-usability guru Jakob Nielsen even described the phrase “mobile usability” as “pretty much an oxymoron”.

The world has changed a good deal since then. Nielsen’s investigation of the modern-day mobile experience suggests that users are more content with the way they view sites on smaller screens. As can be seen from our Christmas mCommerce suvey, it has taken a while for some retailers to realise the importance of mobile shopping but there is still away to go.

How to ensure Google views your site as mobile-friendly

As outlined in our blog about the launch of Google’s “mobile-friendly” label, there are some basic criteria to ensure Googlebot sees your site as mobile-friendly. It’s important to avoid use of software not found on mobile devices, use suitable text sizes, ensure content is fitted to the device screen and leave adequate space between links.

It’s not only mobile-friendliness that helps with rankings for mobile. As of February Google also began ranking relevant content from indexed apps more prominently in search results. Apps have certainly changed the mobile landscape: according to research from ComScore, from August 2014, more websites were accessed through apps than through desktop browsers.

For help with making your site mobile-friendly, Google have published a guide to mobile-friendly sites. And for webmasters, Google have also produced some tools to help see how Googlebot views your pages.

  • Entering your URL into Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test will tell you how mobile-friendly it considers your site.
  • Site owners can also use their Webmaster Tools account to get a full list of sitewide mobile usability issues, using theMobile Usability Report.
  • To find out how to implement App Indexing, to help include app information in search results, there’s a step-by-step guide on Google’s developer site.

Wider mobile user experience considerations

In this year heralded as the year of user experience, usability is not the only factor affecting both mobile user experience and Google rankings. Page delivery time and overall performance have much greater impact on mobile users than desktop.

All in all, there are lots of changes for website owners to take into account when looking at how their sites will work for mobile. Usability testing and performance monitoring are both vital to understand the mobile user experience and give site owners a head-start in attracting and retaining mobile users.

All the trends suggest that most future growth will be through mobile devices. The advent of 4G will speed up the process even more: any sites that don’t provide a comfortable mobile user experience are going to be in for a rough time. No-one can afford to be left behind. Remember if you’re not accessible at any time from any place, well, you’re not accessible.