On February 26, 2015 Google announced some important changes to their search algorithms with regard to mobile search. In keeping with its goal of providing the most timely and relevant search results, regardless of device used, and in recognition that mobile devices are increasingly becoming the entry point of choice, Google has expanded its use of “mobile-friendliness” as a ranking signal. The change will affect mobile search in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact on search results. The new algorithm goes into effect April 21 this year.
Just what does “mobile-friendly” mean? It means that your site is “configured properly” and “viewable on modern devices” – in other words, your site is optimized for mobile. That means, in practice, that your site avoids software not common on most mobile devices (such as Flash), uses text that is readable without zooming, sizes content to screen size so that users do not have to scroll right and left to read content, and spaces links so that they can easily be tapped.
Remembering that other factors in Google’s search algorithms favor search result frequency, perceived relevancy of content, and “freshness” of content, the addition of mobile-friendliness can have significant impact on your search initiatives’ success. If your site is not optimized for mobile, and therefore achieves very low rankings in Google mobile search results, that “demotion” will only be exacerbated over time, and, long story short, mobile searchers will not find the content you hope to deliver.
There are a few important things to know:
- This ranking preference applies to mobile search only, and at present does not impact desktop search.
- Mobile-friendliness is currently awarded on a page-by-page basis, rather than being a “site-wide” designation.
- The mobile-friendly ranking is designated in real time – there is no “full stop” on April 21.
This means that you have time to make any needed adjustments to your site, and that you can take a phased approach, as appropriate.
There are several ways to make your site mobile-friendly:
- Responsive Design: The page – URL, HTML, images, etc. remain the same, but the CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) applies rules based on browser width
- RESS/Adaptive/Dynamic Serving: the URL remains the same, but the server sends different HTML and CSS based on what type of device is requesting the page
- Separate Mobile Site: often a subdomain (m.mobile.com) or subfolder (www.domain.com/mobile), it serves different HTML to desktop and mobile visitors based on their user agent
The option you choose will depend on your situation — resources, new build vs adaptation, mobile vs desktop consumer conversion behaviors, similarity of consumer mobile vs desktop search behaviors, and so on.
Bottom line: to remain competitive in today’s search environment, however you choose to get to mobile-friendliness, it’s imperative that you do it fast.