In a few days Google will change the way it decides what will be shown in the results when people search for something using a smartphone. That simple sentence doesn’t sound earth-shattering but it will affect millions of people and, more to the point, millions of websites.
From Tuesday 21st April 2015, if a website doesn’t display well on a small mobile device like a smartphone, it will be demoted in the search results shown on smartphones, whereas sites that cater well for small screens so that viewing and navigating content is easy will be given more favourable positions.
Needless to say, search is one of the most important drivers of business these days, and Google’s changes will have a far-reaching effect on people doing business online. Traffic patterns will probably change drastically and webmasters whose site does not render well on mobile devices could see a massive drop-off in visitor numbers and — if their site is an online shop — purchases.
So what makes a site mobile-friendly?
A site that adapts properly to small-screen devices as well as larger screens is called responsive. There are a number of attributes of a website that, when put together, make a site properly reponsive.
First of all, scrolling. Users should be able to see all of a page’s content simply by scrolling vertically, without having to swipe horizontally as well.
Content should still flow in a logical order, even if it has been rearranged when compared to the desktop computer version of a page.
Text must be large enough to read without difficulty, and all links, icons and buttons must be large enough to touch with the average finger, without accidentally touching nearby links, buttons or icons.
The site must also load reasonably quickly, since most mobile data connections are slower than the average wifi or wired network connection. There is no point loading huge photographic quality images when they are displayed no more than 5cm or 6cm wide.
What to do about it
First of all, pick up your smartphone and try viewing your website. In fact I’m sure you’ve already done this and you know very well whether your site is mobile-friendly.
In fact, why not let Google tell you whether your site meets the standards? Try the Google Developer site’s Mobile-Friendly Test. The results of running this test for ZigPress are shown above.
If the answer comes back “Not mobile-friendly” then Google has a guide for you to work through, to improve the way your site works on small screens.
If your site was developed for you, and it isn’t mobile-friendly, there’s no shame in that, but now it’s definitely time to talk to your developer about getting changes made to rectify the situation.
Is this really important?
According to U.S. research firm comScore, in the last three months of 2014, 29 percent of all U.S. search requests — about 18.5 billion — were made on mobile devices. It is absolutely safe to say that this figure will grow, and is probably already even higher in some countries. Of course, not every single search is done using Google, but the vast majority are, and I personally believe that other search engines will eventually follow Google’s example on this issue.
And I’m sure I don’t really need to point out that if someone is using their smartphone to search for something that you offer, but your site doesn’t appear in the results because it isn’t mobile-friendly, that person will never discover your business, and you’ve just lost a potential sale.
If you’re concerned that making the necessary changes to your website will be too expensive, ask yourself how many of your customers come to you via Google while using their phones. Can you afford to lose that much business overnight?