Having a mobile-friendly site has just become critical

I’ve talked before (indeed, very recently) about the importance of your website looking good on mobile devices. It may be time to move that requirement up to “critical”, following an announcement from Google last week.

Normally, Google is very vague about changes in its algorithms, and when these changes will be implemented. But in a blog post last week, the company said: “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.”

This is as forthright an announcement from Google as I can remember. Terms like “significant impact” aren’t used lightly, and naming a date is rare too. It’s quite possible that if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re going to be moved so far down the Google results on smartphones and tablets that you may as well not be there.

Let’s get some background on your own situation. When you look at your website on a smartphone, do you see the same website presentation as on a desktop PC, just shrunk down to make it unreadable? If so, you’re not “mobile friendly”. Here’s an example: the Cambridge Airport website (below, left). You’ll see that this is just an almost unreadable, shrunken desktop site on a smartphone screen, and therefore not mobile friendly.


In the Google results for “cambridge airport” (above, right), you’ll see that Google has identified the site as not being mobile friendly. How do we know? Because it hasn’t been given the corresponding label, which the Wikipedia site’s result is given.

So check your site in a Google search on a smartphone, and see whether you get that all-important label reading “Mobile friendly”. If not, you have some work to do.

Next, we need to determine if it’s worth updating the site. To me, the answer is simply: yes. But if you need evidence, take a look at your website’s visitor statistics. In Google Analytics, set the date to the last month, and click Audience > Mobile > Overview on the left hand side. This shows how much mobile traffic you’re getting on the site. For most of our clients, “Mobile” plus “Tablet” seems to have risen to over 20% now. If you go to the date box and click “Compare to > Previous year”, you can even see the rise compared to 12 months ago.

How much of this 20% (or whatever) being viewed on mobile devices is coming from Google, and could be in danger? Select “Source” under “Secondary Dimension” to see. Again, looking at most of our clients, it would appear to be about half. Your figures may vary. Whatever the case, it’s a significant number of visitors. You do not want to lose them by dropping out of Google’s results on mobile devices. Even if you can’t get your website updated to a 2015 design across the board right now, then at least a special design for mobile devices should be added – immediately.

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