Mobile Madness – What Google’s Recent Mobile Friendly Update Means For You

Google’s “Mobile Madness” campaign showed website owners how to prepare for the upcoming change and then gave indications of how their website performance would be affected. To see the information shared in this training period, you can simply search the #mobilemadness hashtag on Twitter.

The jury is still out on the long term consequences of the “Mobile-Friendly” update but it’s yet another quality issue that you, as a webmaster must take into consideration.

What you must know about the Mobile-Friendly update

You might be forgiven for thinking that this update would be end-times for small business web rankings. There was more mis-information than truth being shared on social media in the lead up to the algorithm change. Here’s the truth about the mobile friendly update:

1. It only applies to searches performed on a mobile phone only. Depending on your industry this could be 20% or 90% of your traffic! Use your Google Analytics account to see exactly how many people access your site via a mobile device.

2. It’s a real time, global roll out. Google algorithm updates happen in several ways. In some cases the updates happen on a specific day – causing dramatic changes in search results on the day of the roll out. This means that you have to live with the results until the next time an update is rolled out. Some are language or region specific and don’t apply to your Australian website. This one however, is an ongoing, real time part of the main Google algorithm. This means that if you’ve not changed to a mobile-friendly website already, don’t despair.  When you do upgrade to a mobile-friendly site, your rankings will change after Google’s first visit to it. This is usually within 72 hours.

3. It’s page specific. The means that the overall design of your site must be mobile friendly. If some of your pages are formatted for ease of use on a mobile phone, they’ll be fine – but others may not.

4. Mobile-friendliness isn’t everything. If your content is high quality and your other SEO strategies are solid, you may fare OK even if your site isn’t well displayed on a smartphone. You may find however that you still lose rank, just not as much competitors with “thinner” content.

5. Some content may need upgrades. If you’re using embedded video or Flash based content on your site, you will need to re-embed using the latest version of the coding. Your super talented website hero can help.

6. Remember that it’s not just about Google, it’s about user experience. A mobile- friendly website is about helping your audience to purchase from you. It’s not all about rankings!

Google’s advice for Small and Medium Business Owners

As part of the Mobile Madness training period, Juan Felipe Rincon, from Google’s “search quality” team provided specific advice for small business owners. Making your small business website easier to use for mobile searches involves acquiring some basic technical knowledge. If you don’t have a webmaster on your team, it may be worth enlisting help from your web design firm. The four main focus areas Rincon recommended were:

1. Learning the tools you need to understand mobile usability

2. Understanding viewpoints and plugins

3. User experience, tap targets and font sizes

4. Google’s rules on redirects and canonicals

Tools for mobile usability

The Mobile-Friendly Test. This tool allows you to check, page by page, the mobile- friendliness of your website.

Mobile Usability Tool. This is part of your Webmaster Tools suite under the Search Traffic Tab. Here you’ll see any issues Google has found with your site.

Page Speed Insights Tool. This is part of the Google Developer’s Tool Kit and will give you specific instructions on fixing page speed issues.

Viewports Zoom and Plug-ins

Viewports. Viewpoints control how a webpage is displayed on a smartphone. Without these users get the mobile phone will “squish” a desktop view onto the smartphone screen – which makes navigation near impossible. You’ll need additional coding to create a more mobile friendly site.

Plug-ins. Avoid using unsupported plug ins. These deliver a “ not supported” message to mobile users. Visit every page on your site, especially those containing video, using a Smartphone. If you get an “unsupported” message, it’s time to re-embed the video using the latest embed code.

Remember too that if you’re using Javascript or CSS files to make your site more mobile-friendly, you must allow Google to crawl that script!

To see step by step instructions on making all this happen, check out this video.

User experience – tap targets and font sizes

This is all about how the user engages with your site on their smartphone. Tap Targets. These are simply anything you’d expect a smartphone user to tap. Ensure these are large enough to tap easily and that they do not appear to closely together. A tap target should be 7mm wide minimum. Line spacing also matters. Keep 1.2 em units minimum.

Fonts. If your font is too small it will be illegible. Use a 16px font minimum.

Redirects and Canonicals

There are two main ways for you to serve mobile friendly content – responsive design and “two site setups”. A responsive site re-shapes content depending on the user’s device. A “two site setup” is where you have different URLs for users on mobile or on desktop. These are both acceptable options however “two site setups” need extra work on the user’s behalf and simple mistakes can create big problems!

Coding Canonicals. If you’re using the two site set up, you’ll need what is called bidirectional annotations on every page of BOTH of your sites. On your “desktop” version you’ll need to add an “alternate” tag to tell Google that there is a second version of the page. On the mobile version, you’ll need to add a canonical tag to notify Google that it is a copy. This is time consuming and easy to do badly!

For small business owners, it’s probably worth getting yourself a new website that utilises responsive design. This will greatly cut down on the time taken to run your website in the future. Speak to your favourite Brisbane Web Designer if you’ve got any questions about making the switch.

If you’re not an experienced web developer, these changes can be complicated – and can result in a big old mess. It’s best to get your “web person” to fix these issues.

But, my users are mostly desktop users, do I even care about mobile friendliness?

While it may not have an immediate effect on your business, it’s not like mobile use is “just a phase”. Over time, more of your users will move to a smartphone for web search and Google’s algorithm will move ahead with them. If you don’t have many mobile users now, you can probably dilly dally a little while but be sure to budget for a responsive site in the coming year.