Mobile-friendly site design: Google’s next big ranking factor

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Mobile optimization is the next major frontier in search engine optimization. Brands have to ensure that not only is Google finding and crawling their site appropriately, but also that it is optimized for mobile to ensure users can use their site properly on mobile devices. With the explosion of mobile, it’s yet another aspect of digital marketing that brands and site owners need to be aware of. But how do you know if your site is mobile-friendly?

Google is rarely specific in their guidelines for effective SEO tactics – they prefer to give out more general guidelines as to not have millions of websites manipulating their sites and spamming the search results. That changed recently, as they made the announcement that on April 21st, Google will use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This is a significant impact, with all languages in all countries being affected. And Google will assess this on a page-by-page basis on your site, meaning every single page within your site needs to be mobile-friendly. What does this mean to you and your website? Let’s take a look.

Steps to make your website mobile-friendly

The first step is to check to see if your site is mobile-friendly. Use this handy tool from Google to check for any and all issues. It will give you several reasons why your site is either mobile-friendly or not. Google will then give you plenty of resources to fix these issues. You should also go into your Google Webmaster Tools account to check if there are any mobile usability issues found across your site.

Some common mobile site usability issues include:

  •      Flash usage

One of the most common issues with mobile usability is when a website has flash-based content. Mobile users cannot use these pages, and they should be designed using a more modern web technique, such as HTML5.

  •      Viewport not configured

Users access your mobile site in a variety of devices with a variety of screen sizes. Your page should use a tag telling the browser how to adjust for scaling and dimensions for whatever device the user has. This is done by creating a meta viewport tag within the site.

  •      Fixed-width viewport

This issue is common with websites that do not have responsive design.  When the viewport of your site is set to fixed width, it is set to a general screen size and doesn’t take into account all devices. Making a responsive website and setting the viewpoint to match any devices width and scale will fix these issues.

  •      Content not sized to viewport

This is an issue when you must use horizontal scrolling to see words and images on the page. All pages should use relative width and position values and be aware of how images will be scaled on the site.

  •      Small font size

Seems self-explanatory, but if the font size is too small for mobile users, they will not have a great experience on your site. If a user has to “pinch-to-zoom” in order to read your site, you do not have a great mobile experience. When your viewport on your web page is set correctly, you must then set a font size to scale within that viewport.

  •      Touch elements too close

There may be touch elements such as buttons or navigational links that are too close together on your site, with the result that users are selecting the wrong element. You must set appropriate size and distance requirements for users on your mobile site.

Optimizing your mobile content

Beyond user experience, it’s important to take into account your site’s content and the fact mobile users may have different reasons for accessing your site on their mobile device instead of desktop. This is where location may be a big factor, as users may be seeking information such as store or office locations and directions. Look into mobile-specific keywords for your key pages and audit the mobile local landscape now to find any competitive advantage before the April 21st deadline.

Additionally, improve any call to action that makes sense on desktop, but might be difficult on a mobile device. Nearly every webmaster will be rushing to create a decent mobile experience, so you need to create an experience on mobile that is far better for your users than the competition’s websites.

Indexing apps

Something that hasn’t been mentioned as much within this new update is the ability for Google to index apps. If you have an app installed on your mobile device, Google will be able to crawl that information and use it as a factor for rankings for signed-in users of that app. Creating an app for your business or website is something that all business owners should consider, depending on their product offering.

Mobile will overtake desktop searches in 2015, according to this study by BIA/Kelsey, and your website will be left behind if there is no mobile aspect.  It’s time to invest fully into having a mobile-friendly website – your site’s users will thank you for it.

Learn more about the benefits of a Mobile-Friendly design.