Content, Search Engine Optimisation, Website Design and Development

How Being Mobile-Friendly is a Ranking Signal

August 6, 2016

During 2015, Google updated its algorithm for the use of mobile-friendliness as a SEO ranking signal, which was given the ominous-sounding name of ‘Mobilegeddon’ in some circles. Essentially, it means that websites that are pleasant and easy-to-use on mobile devices such as smartphones are more likely to rank better in the SEO stakes.

While there were fears that the algorithm was going to spark Mobilegeddon and destroy hard-won rankings, in reality, it only affects ranking when searches are done on mobile devices, and is relevant only for individual pages rather than whole websites. This means it won’t affect ranking for searches done via desktop.

Even so, having a mobile-friendly site does make good business sense, especially with so many people these days choosing to use their mobile device for searches, purchases, information and other tasks. Some of the data indicates that over 90% of smartphone owners use them for internet search, and three-quarters of mobile searches are done in places where desktops are present. So while many people might use their mobile for internet use while they are out and about, obviously large numbers of people are now also showing a preference for hand-held devices over desktops altogether.

This means if your site is not mobile-friendly, users are likely to go elsewhere. So even if you are not too concerned about mobile SEO rankings, you may risk missing out on sales and traffic if you don’t adapt your site for mobile.

What does a mobile-friendly site look like?

When it comes to mobile sites, simplicity is the key. Generally-speaking it will:

  • Not be cluttered or have too many elements on the screen.
  • Allow users to read information without the need to scroll sideways. Fonts and text-size should also be easy for the average person to read without difficulty.
  • Have links and buttons that are spaced well enough apart for people to easily click on.
  • Be easy to navigate and to follow from one step to the next.
  • Be quick to load and use. Ideally it will avoid the use of software that could slow down page speed.

Some of the recommendations by Google developers when it comes to making a site mobile-friendly include:

  • Make it easy for customers to complete common tasks, by streamlining the experience so there are not too many interactions for them to go through to reach their destination. To do this you need to work out what the most important and common tasks for your customers are, and go from there.
  • Focus on consistency across all your platforms, in terms of design and user experience.
  • It’s preferable to have the same URL for your mobile site as for your desktop, which adjusts itself automatically for the device screen size. This is known as Responsive Web Design or RWD, and it means you only need to maintain one website rather than several versions of the same site or page.

In a nutshell, the main aim of making a site mobile-friendly is to improve the experience for users and provide them with what they are looking for and hoping to achieve.

How to get started on mobile friendliness

Start by running a Google mobile-friendly test on your page URLs. This tool will give you pretty much a yes or no answer so there is no ambiguity there! It may also provide specific feedback, such as “content wider than screen”, or “links too close together”, and provide an image of how Googlebots see the page.

Depending on the results and feedback you receive, you can make changes to your site to adapt it more readily to mobile devices, and then run another evaluation test.

Mistakes to avoid

Google has listed a number of mistakes that should be avoided. These include:

  • Unplayable content – such as certain types of videos, especially ones that require software not supported by mobile devices, such as Flash. This can be remedied through HTML5 animations which work across a wide section of web browsers.
  • Mobile-only 404 pages – that is 404 pages that occur only on mobile devices but not desktops. Using responsive design may overcome this problem.
  • Slow-to-load pages – something that’s likely to frustrate users and send them packing! For this one you can use the PageSpeed Insights tool to determine what is causing your pages to slow down.
  • Irrelevant cross-links – this can occur where there are separate URLs for desktop and for mobile, and the result may be that users are taken to a different page from the one they are trying to access, such as the desktop home page.

Don’t delay optimising your site

Not optimising your site for mobile could lead to you losing traffic, missing out on sales, and falling in the SEO stakes. It’s also just what internet users expect these days – which is unlikely to change any time in the near future! So if your site has not been optimised for mobile, speak to an expert in small business website design for assistance.

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By Bill Vasiliadis

By Bill Vasiliadis

Bill Vasiliadis is one of Australia’s leading digital marketers with over 23 years in the industry. With a Master of Digital Marketing degree and a Bachelor of Science (Computer Science) degree, he has tremendous knowledge and experience.

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