Have you ever noticed the words “mobile-friendly” (“site mobile” in French) next to your Google search results when you’re doing a search from your smartphone?
As of April 21, those will most likely be the only results you’ll see, since Google announced an algorithm change that will affect mobile search results.
If your site isn’t optimized for mobile, you’re looking at a substantial drop in ranking in mobile search results – even to the point of exclusion. In other words: no mobile site equals no ranking in Google mobile search, which equals less traffic from Google to your site, which equals fewer conversions.
Have you ever come across a site that wasn’t optimized for mobile, while you were on your mobile device? Did you have to pinch the screen to zoom in and out? Hit the wrong button because it was so small? These types of constraints are signs of a poor user experience.
Google is constantly improving its user experience with algorithm changes both big and small – for example, by displaying more relevant search results based on user intention.
Anyone who jumped on the responsive or adaptive design bandwagon for their last redesign is already well equipped. Those with a mobile version of their site (m.domain.com) should also escape unscathed, with the exception of those who only created mobile versions of certain pages or sections of their site – which happens all the time. In that situation, only the pages hosted at m.domaine.com would be prioritized by Google in mobile search. It’s important to know that Google encourages responsive design above all other methods.
The change will have zero impact on desktop rankings, but as we mentioned a few weeks ago, mobile search is growing fast, even in Canada. This algorithm update will be a big one, as announced last March by Zineb Ait Bahajji of the Webmaster Trends team:
Google did say when they announced the mobile-friendly ranking algorithm that this would have a “significant impact” on the mobile search results. This is key, it is only impacting the mobile results and even so, it will have more of an impact than Panda or Penguin. Source
Google has created a tool to allow developers to verify whether a page is optimized for mobile: the Mobile-Friendly Test. You should be testing your site’s main templates, landing pages, product pages, section pages, top-performing articles, etc. Here’s an example of a page that’s not mobile-friendly:
The fastest way to check for mobile-friendliness is just to do a quick Google search from a mobile device. If your site is mobile friendly, it will be indicated beside the search result – a change that would have come into effect on April 21. If this indication is missing from several of your pages, you should be worried.
Another option is to use Google Webmaster Tools, under Search Traffic > Search Queries, to see the volume of traffic you’re currently getting from mobile search, and evaluate the clicks and impressions that are at risk. If you can already see a big discrepancy between desktop and mobile rankings, you can assume that Google has started penalizing your mobile pages – and you’ll probably want to take a closer look as soon as possible.
With a more advanced tool, you can evaluate your mobile experience at a more granular level. The Mobile Emulation Tool in the Chrome browser allows you to do just that. This video, created by Annie Cushing gives a detailed explanation of how to use this tool to analyze your pages.
If you don’t have a mobile site at all, it’s time to seriously start thinking about it!
If you do have a mobile site, quickly speak to your agency and/or front-end design and usability teams about doing an audit of your mobile pages, and making corrections to the pages or templates that aren’t yet mobile-friendly.
In the majority of cases, the problem is caused by one of three things:
If the important pages of your site haven’t been optimized for mobile, you are going to lose visibility in Google search. What’s more, you can expect more changes along the same lines later this year… If you want to offer the best user experience, think mobile-first. It’s not just about optimizing your digital content – the container matters too!