Recently, Google sent warning notifications via email and Google Webmaster Tools, warning webmasters that web pages need to be optimized with a mobile-friendly design or face losing rankings in search engine results pages. While Google has not formally announced any changes to its mobile ranking algorithm, these warnings suggest that one is likely on its way. If all signs indeed point toward that truth, then websites ignoring their mobile experience will most certainly pay a price. Google’s motivation for this change makes perfect sense considering A) Mobile search has officially supplanted desktop search as the more popular way to scour the web and B) This change falls directly in-line with their objective for search users – provide the best online experience by providing the best content possible.
Essentially, these warnings are wake-up calls, alerting trend-trailing businesses and webmasters to start taking mobile optimization seriously. By exclusively providing mobile-friendly websites, Google will now ensure it serves its users easily accessible content, optimized for consumption on any device, at any time. However, with every new edict comes inevitable fallout…
Even though many brands are already ahead of the curve with their mobile experiences, this change still stands to have a profound impact on businesses of all sizes; both the mobile and non-mobile optimized.
What This Means for Big Business
The Little Guys are Catching Up
At this point, most of the larger, higher-earning businesses have already optimized for mobile simply because these kinds of brands generally have more resources to invest in their mobile SEO. Until now, simply having a mobile site was enough of an advantage for these heavyweights to stay ahead of any smaller-scale competitors. However, with these changes in place, staying ahead in the mobile game may become a bit more complex.
Now that Google is,in a sense, forcing webmasters to create a mobile friendly experience–pushing businesses who may not have invested in their mobile web design to go that extra mile; the search engine is leveling a previously skewed playing field and eliminating the advantage big brands had by simply launching a mobile site. With more brands entering the mobile playing field, just having a mobile-friendly experience won’t cut it anymore. Moving forward, to win the search game you won’t just need a mobile site, you’ll need a better mobile site.
What This Means for Small and Medium Sized Businesses
Mobile Searches to Increase
Two facts are true.
1) Many small and medium sized business are presently not optimized for mobile.
2) People like easy things.
By strongly encouraging all brands to provide easier and, hopefully, more enjoyable mobile experiences for online searchers, the number of mobile-friendly experiences available is likely to increase, giving people what they like… something easier. This combination of factors will likely result in the number of mobile searches increasing. With the amount of mobile search users trending upwards already, we can conclude that it is now more damaging than ever for businesses currently neglecting the mobile component of their websites, turning their backs on viable organic traffic, to continue refraining from optimization.
Small and medium sized businesses who lack the resources to optimize their mobile experiences will definitely feel this warning’s hit hard. Thus, to keep pace with the competition, small and medium sized businesses must be willing to invest in their mobile SEO in some capacity. Luckily, Google provides step by step guides to help webmasters convert their web pages to a mobile friendly design. However, before embarking on implementation, it is important to first understand the reasons Google has flagged your website before taking the appropriate steps to remedying these issues. Here are the most important architectural and content elements commonly neglected in the mobile experience:
- Keep it simple – A simple layout and design that clearly displays the page helps users more easily view and interact with content. With mobile, less is usually more.
- Simple navigation with large buttons – Remember, people are navigating with their thumbs on a small space. Ensure that buttons are large enough so other buttons are not mistakenly hit. People generally prefer vertical scrolling to horizontal scrolling.
- Keep content clear and concise – Many mobile users are using their device on the go. Too much text creates clutter where the most important messages can be lost. Again, less is more.
- Speed is key – Page load speed is a big factor. It is important to ensure media files are optimized for mobile.
- Make contact information easy to find – Again, mobile users are often on the go and looking to find store hours and phone numbers. Make contact info highly visible and include click-to-call for phone numbers.
- Responsive web design – This route ensures your mobile display is consistent across all types of devices. Read more about responsive web design implementation here.
With Big Changes Come Big Opportunities
Google updates its search algorithm rapidly, and typically makes no formal announcements when changes occur. Since Google has been so open about this particular update, personally warning offending webmasters, we can surmise mobile is an issue especially hot in the company’s mind. Any loss in time, money, and effort in updating your website will be gained back when you retain and strengthen your mobile SERP visibility.
Regardless of the size of your business, or the industry you’re in; it is more important than ever to provide users with a satisfactory mobile experience. Google’s improved mobile SERPs will further encourage web surfers to search the web via their mobile devices. Anyone ignoring mobile, or thinking their mobile experience is “good enough,” will surely lose out in the long run.
Perhaps the best way to view mobile strategy is by taking a more holistic approach. From this viewpoint, it is important to consider your mobile experience as more than a simple redesign of the existing desktop site. The mobile user is different from the desktop user. Mobile users may be surfing your website from anywhere at any time; as well as have entirely different mindsets and needs over desktop users. Use data to uncover who your prospective mobile users are and how they’re interacting with your website differently on a mobile device to provide yourself with a better foundation for formulating an effective mobile strategy.
For more in-depth information about improving your mobile design, check out Google’s guide to mobile design. Here you can test your website, and find information about fixing errors and optimizing for mobile.
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Google recently announced a change to their mobile ranking algorithm when they confirmed mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal that will have a “significant impact” on search results. With the change scheduled to take effect April 21, this announcement further reinforces the importance of possessing a mobile-friendly design. It is recommended that webmasters pay close attention to their site rankings and mobile traffic before and after this date to understand the effect this ranking signal will have for mobile websites.