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If you’ve been following Google’s Webmaster Blog for the past year or two, you’re already aware of Google’s increasing focus on user experience issues for mobile. If not, here’s what you’ve been missing:

November 2014: Mobile-friendly label appears in search results

February 2015: Google introduces its mobile-friendly testing tool

April 2015: Mobile-friendly pages now receive a ranking boost

February 2016: Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) show up in Google top stories

May 2016: Mobile-friendly testing tool added to Google Search Console

August 2016: AMP designation added to regular organic results

September 2016: AMP reports appear in Google Search Console

October 2016: Enhanced AMP testing tool added to Google Search Console

November 2016: Google announces mobile-first indexing

With data placing the total amount of mobile searches at over 60%, it simply no longer makes sense for Google to choose desktop sites as the default for calculating rankings. That’s why Google’s most recent announcement contains the news that they will be shifting their algorithms over to mobile-based calculations:

“Today, most people are searching on Google using a mobile device. However, our ranking systems still typically look at the desktop version of a page’s content to evaluate its relevance to the user. This can cause issues when the mobile page has less content than the desktop page because our algorithms are not evaluating the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher.
To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.”
This announcement abrogates earlier news that they would be splitting their index in two: one for mobile users and one for desktop users.

Google’s announcement indicates that the coming changes will start to ramp up over the course of the next few months. As a result, it is now more important than ever to ensure that your mobile website is up to par.

Here are some tips:

  • If at all possible, ensure that your website serves pages either responsively or dynamically. Responsive design means that pages on your site will respond to changes in the user’s viewport, using CSS breakpoints to change the layout as the window is resized. This ensures a positive user experience no matter what the user’s device resolution may be. Dynamically served pages use the Vary HTTP header to signal changes that depend on the user agent. Mobile user agents will receive a mobile page and desktop user agents will receive a desktop page.Of these two options, responsive design is preferred.
  • If your site’s primary content differs between its mobile and desktop sites, it is critical that semantic markup is used for both versions of the site. We recommend using the Schema.org ontology and implementing markup using JSON-LD. Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool should be used to verify that your semantic markup is implemented correctly.
  • If you have both a mobile and a desktop site, check your mobile site’s robots.txt file and ensure that it is fully crawlable. This can be verified with the robots.txt testing tool in Google Search Console.
  • If you have both a mobile and a desktop site, ensure that the mobile version of each piece of content canonicalizes to the desktop version, and that the desktop version has a rel=”alternate” tag pointing back to the mobile version.Note that there should be a one-to-one correspondence between desktop content and mobile content. According to Google, it is better to have a quality desktop site than an incomplete mobile site. Ensuring that your mobile site meets all best practices before launching it is a wiser decision than launching before it is ready.
  • If you have a separate mobile site, ensure that both the mobile and the desktop version of your site have been submitted to Google Search Console.
  • Finally, whether you have a separate mobile site or are using one of the techniques in the first bullet point to ensure that users are served an appropriate page on the fly, each page type should be checked in Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool.

 

Pages that are not mobile-friendly should be optimized in accordance with Google’s mobile site guidelines. These include specifications on sizes of fonts and tap targets (such as buttons and links), distances between tap targets, viewport specifications, etc.

Basic guidelines can be found here. Some more specific recommendations are included under their PageSpeed Insights recommendations, as initial mobile testing was done with their PageSpeed Insights tool, prior to the existence of a separate mobile testing tool.

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