Staying on Top: Google's Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update and Your Website

April 9, 2015

You've probably heard some chatter about Google's impending algorithm update over the past few weeks - it's a pretty big deal. In February, Google announced that they will be rolling out their Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update on April 21st and now that day is almost upon us.

Google has been promoting mobile-optimized sites for a while now; last October they added a Mobile Usability feature to Webmaster Tools, and a month later they introduced their "mobile-friendly" label, which identifies mobile-friendly sites on search engine result pages (SERPs) for searches conducted on mobile devices. These initiatives have persuaded many to optimize their website for mobile. The upcoming algorithm change should convince the rest.

On Google's Webmaster Central Blog, the search engine giant announced:

"Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices."

When we consider that 60 percent of time online is spent on mobile (comScore), we understand why Google is getting serious about using mobile-friendliness as a factor in ranking search results. It's all about giving the end user the best experience.

Giving the end user the best experience should be the goal of all businesses, which is first and foremost the reason for optimizing your online presence for mobile. For hoteliers, for example, the motivation to mobilize your website lies in the fact that 21 percent of hotel bookings are made online via smartphones and tablets (Criteo Travel Flash Report), and other such statistics. Now, with Google's Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update on the horizon, optimizing your website for mobile is a must if you want to improve - or maintain - site visibility in mobile searches; more than 70 percent of organic SERP click-throughs occur on the first page of results (Advanced Web Ranking).

While content is still king when it comes site ranking, Google's algorithm update is also set to consider mobile-friendly criteria to help determine positioning in search results. Google will look for design and development features that include:

  • Sites that are crawlable. Google must be able to see your site like an actual user in order to index your content, so always allow Googlebot access to the JavaScript, CSS and image files.

  • Content that is sized for the screen so that users don't have to zoom or scroll horizontally.

  • Text that is readable without zooming.

  • Touch elements like buttons and links that are spaced adequately for accurate tapping.

  • Relevant cross links, i.e. avoid linking to desktop-optimized pages from the mobile site, and vice versa.

  • Fast mobile download speeds.

How to Stay on Top

Bearing Google's mobile-friendly criteria in mind, the following steps will help to ensure your website comes out top in search results, whether you have a responsive design or dedicated mobile site.

  • First, make sure Googlebot can crawl your site. Google offers some helpful pointers for ensuring your website is Googlebot-friendly.

  • Test your website's mobile functionality. You can run your website through Google's Mobile Usability Report and Mobile-Friendly Test to find out how mobile-friendly your website already is and how you can improve it. Visit your website, page by page, on your own mobile devices too.

  • Reassess your content from a customer's perspective. Quality content, intuitive navigation and mobile usability gives your customers what they want, and, therefore, what Google needs to index your site well.

  • Test the speed of your site on mobile. Slow page-load times put users (and Google) off fast.

  • Conduct an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) audit of your website with mobile in mind. Google offers a comprehensive guide to Mobile SEO.

It's important to note that Google tests for mobile-friendliness at the page level, so your website should be evaluated page by page. If optimizing your site for mobile is going to be a big job, you can prioritize the most important pages to get done first. And, because the Google algorithm works in real time, all is not lost if you miss that April 21st deadline, but you will be late to the party - which might cost you significant traffic.

Now is the best time to make sure your website is at its mobile friendliest. Your Web expert can help.


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