While it's been in the works for years, as Google takes the global increase in mobile internet usage very seriously, the search engine giant finally made an official announcement regarding its stance on mobile-friendly websites. The effects of this announcement will be profound, so it's important for any business owner with a website to pay attention and respond accordingly.

Two Important Changes to Google's Algorithm

On February 26, Google made an important two-part announcement on its official blog. While the overall takeaway is that Google wants websites to be mobile-friendly, there are two important changes to understand:

  • "More mobile-friendly websites in search results." Starting on April 21 (which, it's worth noting is the first time Google has ever announced a specific algorithm change this far in advance) the mobile-friendliness will be considered an important ranking factor for mobile search results.
  • "More relevant app content in search results." Secondly, Google announced that--starting immediately--it would begin using "information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed." In other words, indexed apps now appear more prominently in search results for users who are already signed into those respective apps.

Now, it's important to understand that Google is not referring to desktop rankings. This announcement is in reference to mobile search rankings, specifically. However, there is a lot of speculation from reputable sources that mobile-friendliness will impact desktop rankings in the near future, as well.

It's also unclear whether or not Google will be adjusting its rankings on a page-by-page or site-wide basis. This could be an important distinction for websites that have separate mobile sites or versions. The safest way for site owners to ensure they're properly optimized is to pay attention to all site pages.

According to Robert Ramirez, SEO Manager at Bruce Clay, Inc., this announcement is critical for everyone and ultimately points towards the need to adopt responsive design. "As Google's preferred method of serving content to mobile users, we can assume that responsive sites will be favored by Google in search results going forward, and this is the first real step in that process," Ramirez said. Furthermore, he suggests that if it's not possible to make your site responsive by April 21, you should--at the very least--address the deficiencies of your existing mobile solution.

It's All in the Numbers

A focus on mobile-friendliness involves more than pleasing Google. Research curated by Divi Fernando of WooRank shows that more than one-third of all online traffic in North America originates from mobile devices, more than half of all online shopping takes place on smart phones and tablets, and approximately 50 percent of all consumers who search for a local store on a smartphone end up visiting that same store within 24 hours of their query. Furthermore, mobile-friendly and responsive websites have lower bounce rates and higher conversion rates--across the board.

We've seen the signs for years; Google is simply confirming what everyone has already suspected to be true. Now is the time to optimize, or you may find yourself slipping in the search rankings.

Best Practices for Mobile Optimization

While Google's announcement is certainly an indicator that change is on the way, there's no need to panic. You just need to understand how the algorithmic change will affect you and make necessary adjustments to properly optimize your site for mobile viewing.

Google doesn't leave you hanging, either. They've provided plenty of resources to point you in the right direction. After all, they want websites to be mobile-friendly; that's the point of the change. In doing so, they've provided tools to help you succeed. For example, they offer a 'Mobile-Friendly Test,' which allows you to enter a URL and analyze its status.

Additionally, Google offers very detailed guides dedicated to specific website building platforms and software--such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc.--to help users make their sites more mobile friendly.

While investing in a responsive design should be your number one focus, here are some other top tips for mobile optimization:

  • Start with a test. Your first step is to start with the Mobile Friendly Test and find out exactly where you stand and what adjustments you'll need to make in the coming weeks.
  • Update your CMS. Google points out that mobile-optimization could be as simple as updating your CMS to the latest version. Check to see if you're using the most recent version and apply any necessary security upgrades.
  • Analyze custom themes. Are you using a custom theme for your site? If so, make sure it's either mobile-friendly or responsive. Otherwise, you'll need to make a switch.
  • Limit mobile navigation. Jason Wei of Taggler, a site that allows users to compare quotes on custom shirt orders suggests that site owners "think about the typical mobile experience and remember that less is more when it comes to mobile navigation." He adds that you should try to stick to between four and eight pages and never add more than a couple levels of dropdown functionality within any menu.
  • Optimize images. Google pays attention to speed and you should to. Pictures and images are by far the biggest contributing factors to slow page loading times on mobile sites and it's important to cater to mobile UX by decreasing image sizes and weight.

Google: 'Take Mobile Seriously'

April 21 is right around the corner and you don't want to be without a mobile-friendly website if you can help it. While responsive web design should be your ultimate goal, optimizing your existing pages with mobile devices in mind can set you up for success in the meantime.

Published on: Mar 10, 2015