Every now and again, Google updates it’s algorithm to improve the results you get in searches. On April 21st of this year, Google released arguably one of it’s largest updates to date – the Mobile Friendly update. As we continue to manage a vast majority of the websites we create for clients once they’re complete, we occasionally get calls citing ‘my website has dropped down the rankings on Google’ which in its simplest terms, can usually be put down to; website needs a ‘spring clean’ and updates to stay relevant, the website isn’t properly targeting the right search phrases or, worst case scenario, Google is updating it’s algorithm.

Fortunately for anyone in the web design and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) industries, Google decided to tell us in advance the effects the next update could have on your website if it met, or failed to meet, certain criteria. Even more conveniently, Google provided a tool in which you can test your website and see if it passes the Mobile-Friendly Test: https://www.google.co.uk/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/.

What is Mobile Friendly and the Mobile Friendly Update?

Since 2012, we’ve been pushing that mobile web design will become a larger and larger part of the web industry and it’s just as important to have a website that works well on mobile devices (thats both mobile and tablets, by the way) as having a website which works on a desktop or laptop. Morgan Stanley Analysts predict in 2015, upwards of 50% of all traffic to a majority of websites will come from these mobile and tablet devices – if your website doesn’t work on these devices, you’re potentially neglecting more than half of your target market.

There are two ways a website can achieve Mobile Friendly status and as with every other Google update, there’s huge speculation as to which method (if either) Google prefers.

  • Responsive Web Design
    • Responsive Web Design became possible in 2007 with the introduction of HTML5. Traditionally, websites were built using a defined number of pixels to set height and width of elements such as menus and page sections (known now as fixed-width design). With HTML5, web designers are able to use percentages rather than fixed-width elements meaning that websites can expand and shrink dependant on screen size. Websites built today (and for the last few years) should be built to be responsive regardless of this update. If speculation is to be believed, this is the method Google prefers.
  • Mobile Web Design
    • Mobile Web Design is a solution for businesses looking to provide their content to mobile and tablet users without redesigning their existing, fixed-width website. Essentially, you’ll have a separate website designed from scratch specifically for these smaller screen devices. When anyone on a phone visits your main website (e.g. www.mywebsite.com), they’ll be redirected to www.mywebsite.com/mobile/. Because a mobile website is much more basic than a full website redesign, this is the lower cost option.

Am I Mobile Friendly already?

It’s quick and easy to find out if your website is mobile friendly – just visit it on your mobile. If it shrinks down and you can use your website menu without having to zoom in or scroll sideways then it’s likely your website will be deemed ‘Mobile Friendly’ by Google.

You can also visit Google’s Mobile Friendly Test tool and enter your website URL to get a result immediately: https://www.google.co.uk/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/.

Another way to test (this will only work if your website is built using responsive design) is to just visit your website in your desktop computer browser and then drag you browser narrower and narrower – if elements shrink and move, you’re good to go.

What are the consequences of not being Mobile Friendly?

In a word, significant. Google states that it will:

“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. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”

In Lehman’s terms, whether or not your website works on a mobile phone will become a factor in where your website will appear in search results. This means competitors website’s which do work on mobile phones and tablets have the upper hand over you if you’ve been putting off redesigning your website since 2004. This just reiterates the fact that not having a mobile website means you’re ignoring part of your target market.

Why should I care just about Google?

Granted there’s other search engines – Bing, Yahoo and the growing in popularity DuckDuckGo to name just a few – but what makes Google so significant is it’s market share. In October 2014, it was recorded that Google’s market share of search engines was 88.87%. The second most popular was Bing with 5.99%. Src: http://www.statista.com/statistics/280269/market-share-held-by-search-engines-in-the-united-kingdom/.