If you rely on search to assist new users in finding your site, you must now make sure that your site is mobile friendly. Here are the reasons. As Google focuses on ensuring the quality of the user’s experience and the number of mobile devices increases, the volume of search traffic going to Google from these devices will continue to grow. Google does not want the user to have a poor experience with their search just because it is done on a mobile device, so Google has been testing a variety of strategies for improving the mobile users’ experience. These focus on offering mobile users results that show sites that are more easily readable and accessible on their phones. With millions of pages to choose from Google can simply select those pages that work best on mobile devices and show them to the user. If your site is not mobile-friendly, now is the time to adjust your site, or it will be demoted.
On Nov. 18, Google made it official that they are adding a “mobile-friendly” label to their mobile search results. This is to guide users toward pages that will display well on their mobile devices. If your site is not already mobile friendly, Google will in essence be steering users away from your content and towards content that displays well on their device. You can expect that this is just a first step. Google added at the end of the announcement that the search engine is experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal. If your site is deemed unfriendly, you will be demoted.
So what makes a site “mobile-friendly” and when does Google decide? The determination will be made based on what Googlebot—Google’s crawler—finds as it follows your site. This lets Google cull out the friendly sites immediately upon the crawl. Googlebot will be looking for a list of criteria that will mark your site as friendly. These criteria include:
- Avoidance of the use of software that is not common on mobile devices. This includes Flash, so now is the time to trash the Flash pages, if you have not already done so.
- Use of text that is readable without zooming. Think of this from the user’s perspective and you will cheer.
- Content that automatically sizes to the screen so users doesn’t have to scroll either vertically or horizontally. (I hear another cheer from mobile users.)
- Links that are placed far enough apart that the correct one can be tapped easily. This eliminate a huge frustration for fumble-fingers like me who often inadvertently explore many pages.
All of these criteria are straightforward, and anyone who uses a smart phone for Internet searching will find the criteria refreshing. To assist site owners in making sure that their sites conform to the criteria, Google has provided a number of aids including a mobile-friendly testing tool and guides for how to create mobile-friendly sites. Users of Google’s Webmaster Tools will already find reports on their site’s mobile usability.
Although Google’s initial focus has been on mobile-friendly sites for smart phones, we can expect that in the near future Google will turn its attention to tablets. Users often shop from the comfort of home with their tablets. Google will look to improve the experience of “couch commerce” searchers in the future. If you have been postponing developing a mobile/tablet-friendly site, you can no longer put it off.