Every marketer knows that winning at SEO means keeping Google happy — a challenging task at times, since the search engine giant is continually changing its algorithms. This April 21 marks the largest Google search algorithm update in years, and now it’s official: Your website must be mobile-friendly or no one’s going to see it.
Beginning on April 21, Google’s search ranking algorithm will incorporate mobile-friendly factors. The change was made in order to help users find “relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices,” according to a post on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog. And since 60 percent of online traffic now comes from mobile devices, this algorithm change is in line with Google’s primary goal of delivering an exceptional user experience — which is what keeps them the top search engine in the world.
Google has been flagging mobile-friendly websites in searches for some time now, but as of April 21, the mobile friendliness of a website becomes part of the algorithm for determining search ranking. Google has stated that the changes will have a “significant impact” on search results — mobile-optimized sites will rank higher, and sites that aren’t mobile-friendly will be penalized.
Some of Google’s key criteria for determining whether a page is mobile friendly include:
- Avoids use of Flash and other software not common to mobile devices
- Text is readable on smaller mobile screens without zooming
- Content is sized to the viewer’s screen so users don’t have to zoom out or scroll horizontally
- Links are sufficiently spaced to allow users to tap the right one
In addition to the increased emphasis on mobile, the changes include apps. Effective as of February, any app that’s indexed through Google App Indexing immediately began ranking higher in mobile search. This means when a user is signed into Google when they search, content within the apps on their phones is also searched. Specifically, Google’s webmaster blog stated, “…we may now surface content from indexed apps more prominently in search.”
However, the app indexing process currently applies only to Android apps.
What the New Google Means for You
First and foremost — if your website still isn’t optimized for mobile, it’s now critical to do so. Generally, using responsive design is the best option for mobile friendliness, since this ensures a consistent user experience on your site across all devices and platforms. Google has stated its preference for responsive design, as well.
The mobile algorithm is factored on a global, real-time, page-by-page basis. This means if some pages on a site are mobile-friendly, and some aren’t, the mobile-friendly pages will see a ranking boost. And with a real-time algorithm, any page that is changed from non-mobile to mobile-friendly will see an instant rank improvement the next time it’s indexed by Google.
Another important point to note is that even desktop searches are likely to be influenced by the algorithm changes. Historically, Google’s algorithm does not differentiate between desktop and mobile searches — so a search performed on a desktop will pull up the same mobile-influenced results as one performed on a mobile device.
Is your website mobile-friendly? If you’re not sure, Google provides a free tool to check the mobile friendliness of your website, which offers suggestions for fixing items that don’t meet the mobile criteria. If you have a Google Webmaster Tools account, you can check issues with the Mobile Usability Report. Google also provides a step-by-step guide for implementing App Indexing for Android apps.