It is a critical time to develop websites with the mobile user in mind, especially with Google’s new mobile-friendly algorithm coming (but we’ll get to that in a bit). Ever since the debut of devices like the iPhone and Android, our internet usage has shifted incredibly fast from desktops to mobile. 2014 had been the predicted year in which mobile usage would surpass that of desktop, and sure enough June of 2014 was the tipping point:
With the growth of these devices, Google has been keen on helping webmasters adjust their strategy and improve the user experience. Below is a chronicle of both their efforts to share development and indexing tips, but also the specific changes to the search algorithm and search results. Together they demonstrate the growing importance of developing mobile-friendly websites.
2007-2008: The iPhone debuted in 2007 followed by Android in 2008.
- These devices included web browsers and unleashed mobile browsing to the world.
- Web developers shortly followed, building alternate sites apart from their desktop counterparts (think m.website.com) which were often significantly pared down - less navigation, tall and skinny.
- Or you just didn’t build a mobile-specific site at all. But in these early days, users were probably still marveled at the new devices and didn’t expect the great experiences they do now.
2009-2011: Google starts sharing tips for webmasters and developers for building in a mobile world.
- October 2009 - Google’s first post on its Webmaster Central Blog on making the mobile web faster (the article now redirects to a resource portal for developers).
- November 2009 - Google provides tips on helping you index mobile specific sites.
- November 2009 - Additional tips from Google on running both desktop- and mobile-specific versions together.
- February 2011 - Google came out with its first in-depth guide on making websites mobile friendly.
- March 2011 - The first page speed tool is released with support for mobile website speed testing.
- January 2012 - This is Google’s first reference to altering search results for mobile, using the final smartphone destination URL in search results, bypassing any redirect.
- June 2012 - Here is Google’s first unofficial reference to ranking in search results - “today we’d like to give you Google’s recommendations….that gives both your desktop- and smartphone-optimized sites the best chance of performing well in Google’s search results.” The emphasis is mine. One could interpret that as “follow us, and we’ll rank you well”.
- June 2013 - Finally, Google gives official word on algorithm and ranking changes for mobile-friendly search results, “To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.
- August 2013 - Additional tips to help mobile sites load even faster.
- December 2013 - Google Webmaster Tools introduces a tool to diagnose mobile crawl errors.
- December 2013 - Google publishes another in-depth guide, this time a checklist with helpful videos for improving mobile websites.
- January 2014 - Google expands its organic search performance feature in Webmaster Tools for those with separate mobile websites.
- May 2014 - Google updates its PageSpeed Insights tool with expanded recommendations on mobile usability.
- June 2014 - Not an algorithm update, but Google’s second official change to search results, highlighting which pages have a faulty redirect in place.
- October 2014 - Webmaster Tools adds a new Mobile Usability tool.
Google’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm is Coming
Finally we get to 2015. On February 26th, Google officially announced that rankings in mobile search results will be affected by usability:
“Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.”
That’s a pretty explicit call to action - make your website mobile friendly or you won’t rank well. With over 200 different ranking factors and even more than that in terms of algorithm updates per year (most go unannounced), there is a lot of unknown when it comes to SEO. Apart from high-quality links that are earned, and high-quality content with SEO fundamentals in place, Google doesn’t often say what will rank well.
Here at Daylight we understand that importance, even before this announcement came out. Websites we build today all utilize the responsive method of serving mobile content. This means that all content lives on the same URL, no m.website.com, and the site is built to dynamically change visually based on your device (mobile, tablet or desktop). It is Google’s preferred method of serving mobile content, but specific mobile websites are still acceptable and can work well depending on your goals.
Having a mobile-friendly website matters beyond just rankings. Today, roughly 75% of users expect a positive mobile experience from your website. If they don’t find a mobile-friendly experience it can hurt your sales, hurt your reputation, and help competitors:
- Half of mobile users said that even if they liked a company, they would be less likely do business with them if their website wasn’t mobile friendly
- 61% of users will quickly move on to another site
- 48% of users are annoyed and frustrated when a website isn’t mobile friendly, and that they feel companies don’t care about their business
Since the February announcement, Google has revealed several more details regarding the mobile search update. The first update is that there won’t be degrees of mobile-friendliness, a page is either mobile-friendly or its not (story here). If you’re wondering if that applies to you, then the second update should help. If you see the “Mobile-friendly” label when you search for your site on a smartphone, then you’ll be receiving the mobile-friendly ranking benefit. Also, Google’s Mobile Friendly Test tool is a great resource to uncover any issues with your site.
Now is the time to take mobile-friendly websites seriously. Google has certainly never given a definitive timeline before of when a ranking/algorithm is coming. If your website is not mobile-friendly, Aprils 21st is a deadline that will hopefully make you plan a new strategy.