On April 21, Google began implementation of changes that threatened to make it harder for your website to rank well in mobile searches, if it is not “mobile-friendly”. Today we will take a look to see what resulting trends industry experts are seeing, one week into the changes. After that, I’ll show you how you can quickly check your mobile-friendly status with Google and point out some guidance for getting on the right track.
Explaining mobile friendly
What does it mean to be mobile-friendly? Basically, it means that your website is designed such that it works well in a smaller browser, such as those on a mobile phone or tablet. If you have to pinch to zoom your website on a mobile device, that’s definitely not mobile-friendly. In the past, we used to build two websites, a mobile version and a desktop version. Today Google prefers that you build one website and make it responsive to the device accessing it. You use one code base and adjust the experience to better fit a smaller device. This definitely means having a mobile optimized layout, but it could also mean moving, resizing or removing ads, making submission forms shorter or prioritizing features that someone on a phone would be looking for – like your phone number and address.
Why does Google care if they are returning a mobile-friendly search result? Ultimately, Google is in the business of getting us to keep using their search engine. With as many searches that are occurring every day on mobile devices, they have an interest in serving quality results so we keep coming back. To ensure this, these updates propose that if two websites sell shoes online and one works well on a phone and one doesn’t, Google is going to add for favor the mobile-friendly site. They are trying to increase satisfaction with the overall mobile experience. By serving better mobile results, they hope to ensure that users don’t abandon their search engine on mobile devices. At least, that’s how I read it.
What we’re seeing after one week
One week into the announced changes, the results have been pretty boring. Moz.com is reporting we haven’t seen huge changes in rankings among the top of the internet. According to them, the recent changes aren’t killing off quality content links from being returned in search results, at least not yet. Others are publishing intriguing lists of winners versus losers amongst smaller internet players, but for most of us real world local business owners, this list isn’t very relevant. It is proving that, yes, Google changes are affecting some people’s rankings but the verdict is out yet on whether it was as big a deal as Google made it seem.
Does this mean you shouldn’t pay attention? Absolutely not. You should test your website and if you fail the mobile-friendly check, make a plan to fix your website for mobile. If you have a vested interest in being found online before a competitor, you need to know where you stand. All other things equal about your content, if your competitors are mobile-optimized, they will be listed before you. This could be especially impactful for local service based businesses (plumbers, electricians, etc). If you are used to ranking #1 because you did all the right SEO things yesterday but you fail this check, you may see a drop in ranking, if your competitors are serving mobile-friendly pages.
How to check if you are mobile-friendly per Google
Go to the Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Enter your website URL. You should also consider testing a few internal pages if you have greatly differing layouts, especially specific internal pages that drive a lot of traffic to you.
You want to see a result like this screenshot. If you do, congrats, you are probably ok. Know that passing this tool doesn’t guarantee you have a good mobile experience, but as far as Googlebot is concerned today, you are in the clear.
If you are presented with this next result, you’ll want to do some work and quick to get to a minimally Google acceptable mobile friendly site. This is example is of Newegg, which is one of my favorite places to buy computer parts today. The threat to Newegg is that someone with a better mobile experience might get a higher ranking when I search for some specific part on a tablet or phone. At some point, I might never see and click the Newegg link.
What to do if you fail
If you are running your own website on a platform like WordPress and purchased a theme to customize your design, then you want to check to see if your theme has an updated mobile-friendly version. In WordPress, you can check if your theme has an update by going to Dashboard > Updates in the admin. It’ll be listed there. If your theme doesn’t have an update and your site is relatively simple (no custom types), consider installing a new theme for your website that supports mobile layouts. This would be the fastest, cheapest solution.
If you have a customized theme or website, fixing things can be a little more complex. If you don’t have a responsive layout website, now may be a good time for you to engage a professional for a redesign. If you want to keep your current look or don’t have the budget for a redesign now, there is hope. Developers can usually apply a mobile friendly grid-based framework (such as Bootstrap or Foundation) to your site and preserve most of your desktop look while adding the needed instructions for mobile layouts.
If you are going to need to hire a developer to help correct your website, Google has some hiring recommendations in their article, What should I think about when working with a developer? As a small business owner, you may not have the time and ability to fully understand this list. Try to pick up one or two of these criteria to focus your interview on and couple with your gut check when making a decision.
I hope this was a little helpful. Let me know in the comments if you have a specific question about the Google mobile search update or if you need a recommendation on how to proceed fixing your website.