Google has announced, starting in April, its mobile search ranking algorithm will start to take into account whether a website is optimised for mobile devices, which means websites that are mobile-friendly are likely to receive more favourable treatment over ones that are not. If your website is not yet optimised for mobile devices, this news might just be the push you need to get your website ready for mobile.
Significant impact to mobile search results
While Google has given a few months advance notice for websites that need more time to prepare, the search giant warns the changes coming in April this year will result in a “significant impact” to search results, and affects all languages. If your website is not yet optimised for mobile devices and mobile search accounts for a significant amount of your search referrals, it would be an understatement to suggest you might be substantially affected if your website remains unoptimised for mobile.
It is important to emphasise this isn’t the first step Google has taken to make mobile search results more relevant. In November 2014, Google added a feature to mobile search results that adds a “Mobile-friendly” label below the URL of any website in search result listings that are optimised for mobile devices.
Optimising your website for mobile
Before smartphones became common in people’s lives, the mobile web accounted for a very small fraction of overall Web traffic – to such an extent where it seemed pointless, from a website owner’s point of view, to even consider making a separate, severely scaled down version of their website for mobile traffic. Many mobile phones were also incapable of rendering full web pages due to hardware, network and software constraints.
In the early days of smartphones, the best way to make a website mobile-friendly was by having two versions – one for the desktop, and one for the mobile. This was especially important with consideration to the general performance of smartphones at the time, with many mobile-friendly websites (especially on iOS) having being designed to feel like a native app running in the Web browser.
This approach, however, means you have two websites to manage and keep updated. An easier solution is to have the same website display perfectly on any device you may have – so your website looks great on the desktop, but also on the mobile.
Responsive web design
A responsive website design means it automatically scales to fit the available space of the device you are using. In fact, any website that has a responsive web design will scale simply by resizing your browser window.
Even if you are not a Web developer and use a content management system like WordPress, it’s easy to find themes you can use on your website that are responsive.
Really, it all boils down to providing your visitors with the best user experience possible – and search engines like Google have a vested interest in making sure that happens. They want their users to find the right website the first time. If they deliver search results that lead them to poor quality websites, users may consider alternatives to find the answers they’re looking for – by using competing providers!
This is the primary reason why Google, Bing and other search engines rank websites on more than just backlinks and the quality of page content. While they are equally very important, it does not always equal the best user experience, depending on the circumstances.
As a user on a smartphone, you would have a better and more fulfilling user experience browsing a website that is responsive, rather than zooming into a desktop website that is designed for a large-screen display.
For Google, it makes sense to reward websites that offer a better or more relevant experience to their visitors by potentially ranking them higher in SERPs when a search is performed on a device or in a location that would benefit from it.