It's About Time You Got Mobile-Friendly

Google will release its ‘Mobile-friendly’ update on 21st April 2015. Be prepared!

How many times have you come across the above line of text while browsing the internet on your mobile? Not sure? That’s probably because you can’t read it.

You’ll have to zoom in, or you could copy it and paste it somewhere else in a readable size. I suppose you could go elsewhere…oh, hold on. It actually reads “Google will release its ‘Mobile-friendly’ update on 21st April 2015. Be prepared!”

Let’s say that you’re on a lunch break in work and you’re using your phone to get information about a friend’s birthday present. You just want to check online whether a certain store has an item in stock before you head into town after your shift. You find the store’s website and have no choice but to join your thumb and index finger to find out how many are in stock and how much it costs.

You’ve now found what you’re looking for, but you want to find out if you can reserve it. You have to awkwardly navigate from left to right, up and down all whilst zooming in and out to find out how to do this. You finally find it, but when you go to touch the reserve button your fingertips unwillingly seem to hit ‘buy now’ or ‘item quantity’ and before you sort it out your lunch break is over!

You may decide to risk it and head into town anyway or visit another online store. You could always get new friends. Either way, I’m sure we can all agree that this can be pretty annoying.

On the upside however, I’m sure you will have noticed that some of the websites you frequent work perfectly on your mobile device; all of the text is big enough to read, the individual buttons/links are easy to click and there aren’t huge chunks of the page which exist off screen. These are mobile-friendly websites and they make browsing on a smartphone a much better experience.

If you look underneath the URL of a lovely website like the above in Google’s results, you will find ‘Mobile-friendly’ slotted in alongside the meta description. This is Google’s new mobile-friendly label. It will appear under any website which has either implemented responsive design or a mobile version of their site to become more welcoming to mobile browsers.

As of 2014, the number of users searching the internet on mobile devices has overtaken those using desktops. The way our culture and technology has been evolving, this transition from desktop to mobile comes as no surprise. What is surprising however is that out of the top 1,000 websites in the world, Guy Podjarny found that only 18% have implemented responsive design. That means that less than 20% of the world’s most popular websites are definitely safe from being hit by Google’s new algorithm.

However powerful Google is, the world’s biggest brands may not have to worry about these major updates. While there are notable exceptions to this, including BMW being penalised for cloaking and Expedia for buying links, I’d speculate that Google would still show guilty sites for branded searches and maybe even core keywords. A drop for long tail search visibility is more likely, but this is only guesswork for now.

Smaller businesses don’t have the luxury of being able to hide behind their brand authority though and this is why ensuring your website is mobile-friendly is crucial to the continued (or increased) success of your online business.

A Nielsen report suggests that 87% of smartphone owners use their mobile devices to shop online, whether it’s just browsing or actually completing a transaction.

On the 21st of April 2015, Google will begin to roll out this update, which has been estimated to take approximately 7 days and is said to affect more websites than Penguin and Panda combined. Unlike previous major algorithm updates, which were typically released for English language results before being released internationally, the mobile-friendly update will be released globally.

To ease any of your anxieties about Googles new algorithm, you should be aware that it will work on a page by page basis. This means that if you have only managed to optimise 50% of your pages for mobile by April 21st, those pages will still be ranked accordingly and your entire site will not be affected.  It will also run in real time, so if you manage to make your entire site mobile-friendly after the update, when the Googlebot-mobile spiders next crawl your site, its status will be updated.

Even though there is no need for you and all other webmasters who have yet to optimise their sites for mobile to delve into a state of mass hysteria, you should still make the recommended changes to ensure that your website is mobile-friendly as soon as possible.

The first thing you need to do is check if your website is mobile-friendly and Google has made this very easy for you. All you have to do is enter the URL of your webpage here:

In around 60 seconds the page behind the URL you inserted will be analysed and your website will either pass or fail the mobile-friendly test. If you pass, you can just go about your day as normal, if you fail however there are some things which you will have to change. This tool will show you a brief list of issues which need to be fixed to properly implement mobile-friendly design.

The most pressing issues of a website that isn’t mobile-friendly is of course poor display and navigation. This covers issues such as small text, content not being able to fit on the screen of a mobile device and the inability to easily press buttons. Here’s some advice:

  • To ensure the readability of the text on your website, it’s recommended that you make it at least 16 pixels and use appropriate vertical spacing between each row of text.
  • To ensure that the buttons on your website can be clicked, it is recommended that you make them at least 48 pixels in height/width and space them at least 32 pixels apart (vertically and horizontally).
  • If your website has a ‘fixed width’ this should be changed and responsive design implemented in order to allow all of the content to fit on screen for various mobile devices.

As well as improving the usability of a website for mobile visitors, you shouldn’t forget about the other factors which need to be considered when optimising a website for mobile. The list below only scratches the surface but should be enough to get started on your quest for mobile-friendly status.

  • Ensure that the Java Script and CSS are not blocked so that Google can crawl these on the mobile version of your website.
  • If you have pop-ups on the desktop version of your website, remove them for the mobile version as these can be hard to navigate away from on smaller screens.
  • If the desktop version of your website uses flash for animation you should change this, if you can, for mobile. Many devices don’t work with flash and HTML5 is recommended instead.
  • Ensure that videos on your website use a video-embedding platform that is usable on all devices.
  • If you have a mobile version of your site rather than a responsive design, create an XML sitemap designated just for the mobile site. This will make it easier for Google to crawl.

Again, these suggestions are only a small fraction of what is needed to protect your website against Google’s mobile friendly algorithm and as every website is different, they may not all apply to you.

Even if you only take a couple of the key points from this and run them by your website, you will be thankful you did come April 21st.

Flickr Creative Commons Image: Kurt Bauschardt

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