Tomorrow, Google launches its new mobile-friendly algorithm – designed to reward sites which give good user experiences to mobile and tablet users.
A Google insider has warned that the update will be bigger than the infamously disruptive Panda and Penguin updates. Every promotion tomorrow will mean a demotion for another site.
Don’t panic. Unlike previous updates, which put demoted sites in a ‘penalty box’ until Google got around to releasing them, this so called ‘mobilegeddon’ algorithm will happen in real time. This means Google will reward your site as soon as you make the changes. The algorithm is also applied on a ‘page by page’ basis – so your whole site won’t be penalised if, say, someone uploads a badly formatted blog.
Whether you’re a website developer – or just want to make sure your developers have done a good job! – this is what you must know.
1. Mobile has won!
Google’s Eric Schmidt announced in January 2014 ‘Mobile has won’. With more tablets and smartphones being sold than consumer PCs, he predicted that 2014 would be the first year when mobile devices became the main way people accessed the internet. He was right – in August that year, a ComScore study revealed that US smartphone users were spending the majority of their time consuming digital media within mobile apps.
Google’s new algorithm is hardly the first blow. It’s more like the final nail in the coffin for those infuriating desktop only sites which give you nothing but tired thumbs and a strained temper.
Because none of us want to get stuck on user-unfriendly sites, the search engine won’t serve them up to you as a top result. (Google has always put itself ahead of the pack in this way – not just rewarding the most relevant web pages, but the most popular.)
Google’s new algorithm is the tip of the iceberg. Yes, it’s important to follow their rules to avoid losing traffic. But the wider picture is: companies which do not adapt the way they sell in light of this mobile revolution will not survive. Understanding the new ‘mobile customer journey’ – and working out how your company’s sales and marketing teams should reflect it – is no easy task.
2. What Google wants makes sense.
Google’s constant goal post shifting can be difficult to understand – a week is a long time in SEO. To many people, SEO seems like a dark art involving mad hoop jumping.
Except – this new algorithm is easy to understand. Beyond the jargon, here’s what Google wants:
- A defined viewing area (or viewport) that adjusts to the device’s screen size.
Makes sense – it’s so annoying when you have to scroll.
- Content that flows in the viewport, so that users don’t have to scroll horizontally or pinch the screen in order to see the entire page.
Not all of us have dainty fingers
- Fonts that scale for easier reading on small screens.
If you have to use a magnifying glass, you’re doing something wrong.
- Easy-to-touch elements (eg buttons) that are well-spaced from other touch elements.
Nothing’s more annoying than loading the wrong page – especially with a slow connection.
- Visual design and motion driven by mobile-friendly technology.
Google’s talking about real responsive design, where websites look great from any angle, on any device.
3. It’s easy to check if your developers have done a good job of ‘mobile friendly-ing’ your site.
If you have a Google Webmaster Tools account set up, there’s a new mobile usability tool which will help you find which pages have problems and why.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to common issues which may pop up, what they mean and how to fix them.
4. And even if you feel totally unready… you’re not alone.
Commentators say some of the world’s biggest companies could lose out on April 21 – including Next, Windows Phone, MI5, Nintendo and Ryanair – often because they have developed apps but not mobile-friendly sites.
Responsive web design is Google’s recommended option – ie, your site is coded to adjust to any device readers are using. Yet Search Engine Land tells us that Breastcancer.org has created a separate mobile-friendly site.
If you really haven’t worked on your mobile strategy at all, it’s best to take your time, think about your users and develop a site which really works for them. (For this algorithm, Google insists it’s not so much about following their exact rules, but overall experience.)
- Make no mistake about it, the world’s gone mobile – your customers’ buying journeys have gone from A>B to A>G>Z>R>B. If you haven’t adapted already, your competitors probably have.
- What Google wants is simple to understand and makes sense for users.
- Don’t let your website developers fleece you or baffle you with technobabble – if you already have a functioning mobile site in place, you don’t need dev skills to spot user issues on your site using Google’s free tools. However, if your site is a mobile no-go zone, hiring a developer may be more cost-effective in the long run.
- Even some of the biggest companies aren’t ready for April 21. Deciding what’s best for your site and your customers isn’t always a straight fix. A planned approach beats panic.