Does your site provide a good experience for mobile visitors?
That’s the question Google is now asking before displaying it on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). On November 18th, the search giant officially announced their new “mobile-friendly” tag, which not only shows visitors the sites that play nice with their devices, but may also determine search rankings in the future.
To see why this matters for your business website, let’s take a closer look at Google’s new tag.
Mobile-Friendly: Google’s Endorsement of Responsive Design
The mobile-friendly tag, which started appearing on SERPs in November, looks like this:
This tag can affect your site’s traffic in two ways: First, mobile visitors will be more likely to click on links that are optimized for them. They know that those sites will have readable text, no sideways scrolling, and little to no Flash content.
Second, and maybe more importantly, Google’s announcement stated that they may start using the mobile-friendly tag as a ranking signal. That means having a mobile-optimized site could land you higher in search results than competitors whose sites aren’t designed for mobile.
How to Get a Mobile-Friendly Tag
So, how do you get that nice tag next to your search listing?
Google has listed the criteria they are using to determine this:
- No software or plugins that are not common on or don’t work well on mobile devices — Flash is a good example. If you have Flash videos or fancy animations on your site, it’s worth considering removing them, or designing a separate site for mobile users.
- The layout must re-size content to fit the device screen — no side-scrolling to see the left and right sides of the content.
- Text must be readable without zooming.
- Links need to be far enough apart that visitors can tap on them without hitting the wrong link.
- The mobile site should be quick to load. This is especially critical with mobile. Graphics, plugins, and other elements can really tax a smartphone’s resources, causing long load times and sending away visitors.
Responsive Design vs. Mobile Design
So, you’re ready to make your site mobile-friendly and reap Google rewards.
Good! Now you just need to decide whether to Upgrade to a responsive site or add a new mobile site.
What’s the difference? Responsive design allows you to keep just one version of your website, but incorporates code that tells smartphones and tablets how to display your content. The benefit here is clear: Instead of the time and expense involved in creating multiple versions of your site, you can design once and push your site to all devices. However, this option might not be feasible if you’ve already got an established, complex, non-mobile website. In that case, you might want to go for mobile design.
Mobile design creates a copy of your website that’s just shown to mobile visitors. This form of site will require a new domain name (many sites handle this by adding “m.” to their domains, which looks like this: “m.example.com”). By employing a mobile site, you can create a fully customized experience for your mobile visitors…but you also give up some link juice and other SEO boosts that come from having just one domain. Google prefers responsive.
One more important point when you’re deciding between responsive and mobile design: If you go with a mobile site, you’ll probably need to update and/or re-design it frequently. So, while it may be a good choice now to avoid revamping your entire existing website, in the long run a responsive site can save you quite a bit of work.
Are You Google-Approved?
You’ve finished your mobile website, and you’re feeling pretty good about it. Now for the real test: Does Google recognize the work you’ve put into this?
There are a couple of ways you can find out. First, you can test any page on your site with Google’s official test tool. This tool will quickly analyze your page and tell you if your design is mobile-friendly. Hopefully, your results will look like this:
If you want a little more information, Google’s Webmaster Tools are a great resource. Once you’ve signed in and linked your site, Google gives you valuable insight — including the mobile-readiness of your website.
The mobile usability report (which you can find in the side menu of the Webmaster Tools dashboard under “Search Traffic”) will let you know if your site makes any major usability mistakes. These include Flash elements, a missing viewport (the bit of code that sizes your content properly for the mobile device loading your site), text size issues, and more. This report provides a great starting point for fixing issues with the mobile experience on your website.
Responsive, mobile-friendly design isn’t just a nice thing to have anymore — it’s a crucial consideration when you’re building or updating your business website.
Here’s some final food for thought:
- According to ComScore, around 160 million consumers now own smartphones in the U.S.
- Those smartphone users are doing some serious web browsing: Pew’s numbers show 63% of cellphone users browse on their phones, and 34% of those do most of their web browsing on their phones, instead of on computers.
- In a 2012 study, eDigital Research and Portaltech Reply found that 64% of smartphone owners now use their devices to shop online. Even more compelling: A 2012 study by Prosper Mobile Insights found that 25% of consumers do all of their online shopping via mobile.
- Finally, a 2013 study by Cisco found that 48% of mobile users would like to use their smartphones to shop while in-store or on the go.
Creating a mobile responsive website can seem overwhelming. But with more and more people doing their online shopping on mobile devices, keeping your mobile visitors happy is well worth the effort.