Knowing that websites should be mobile-friendly is nothing new. With more people than ever accessing the Internet from smartphones and other mobile devices, brands that have wanted to be able to connect with the largest audience possible understood that a site should be mobile-friendly for the highest degree of success.
However, many have waited to take action on it in a serious way. With Google's latest announcement, that may no longer be an option. Beginning April 21, sites that want to rank higher in search results must be mobile friendly; it's as simple as that.
Google's news release on Thursday, February 26 came in two parts.
First, there will be more mobile-friendly websites than ever before in standard search results. This is happening because the search giant is officially converting mobile-friendliness into a ranking signal. In the past, Google has labeled mobile-friendly sites in search results. On April 21, instead of merely being labeled as mobile-friendly, sites that are configured for mobile devices will actually rank higher than those that are not.
Second, there will be more apps and app-related content in search results. Google will be using information from indexed apps as factors in ranking for users who have the apps in question installed. For users who use apps on a regular basis, it will be a nice change of pace. For those that don't, there will not be much of a difference.
What it Means for Your Website
Put simply, the announcement means that if your website is not mobile friendly - as in, works as well on a mobile device as on a full screen - your rankings are about to suffer the consequences. In the past, it was sufficient to limit images and to check how a standard site looked on a smaller screen. Now, each website will be put to the test prior to being displayed and ranked accordingly. Google claims that the changes will be "significant."
The time to act is now. Following are steps you can take today to ensure your website is up to the test on April 21.
Create a Mobile-Friendly Website
This is a given. If you have yet to act on creating a mobile-friendly website, get started today. 34% of Internet users are using mobile devices, so, even if Google's change wasn't around the corner, this would still be a good idea.
You have multiple options that include:
A responsive site. Existing websites can be redone so that all objects on the screen remain the same but change in how they are viewed based on the browser width of the visitor.
An adaptive site. In this case, the website's URL stays the same but the server sends different code to the viewer depending on which device is in use.
A separate site. Generally, separate sites are hosted on different domains or folders. They work parallel to standard sites and redirect mobile users to the mobile version of the website.
Choosing the right option for your site is essential. Generally, working with a web designer with experience creating mobile sites is a good first option. Because a change like this takes time, it's best to act quickly to get started.
Test Your Website
Google isn't leaving webmasters out in the cold with the large-scale changes that are currently underway. Instead, they've created a "mobile-friendly test" tool that allows them to type in a URL and to see the results. The test is designed to analyze URLS and to report if the page has a mobile-friendly design or not.
If a page is deemed "mobile-friendly" a green message will appear that congratulates the webmaster, along with a screen shot that shows how Googlebot sees the page.
If a website is not mobile-friendly, a red error message will appear along with reasons why the site is not considered mobile friendly. A demonstration shows how the site appears on mobile devices and options populate for making changes.
As a companion to the mobile-friendly test, Google users can also use Webmaster Tools to get a list of mobile usability issues for a given site through a mobile usability report.
Act on Changes
The changes suggested in Google's mobile-friendly test aren't suggestions that set users up for failure. They're designed to help all users succeed. If there are problems that show with your site, simply act to remedy them.
Google provides options for making existing sites mobile-friendly with 3rd party software, technical suggestions for making a site mobile-friendly with an SEO guide as a companion and working with professionals to see the project through.
Pay Attention to Google's Guidelines
Have questions about what makes a site mobile friendly in Google's eyes? Wonder no more. A guide has been created that shows the top three considerations that set a mobile-friendly site apart from one that is not.
1. The Site is Easy for Customers and Visitors
Visitors to any given website should be able to complete their objectives without encountering any barriers regardless of the device being used. To do this, consider the purpose of your website and look at ways to streamline the process, from initial visit to desired conversion.
2. Common Tasks can be Completed without Difficulty
Google believes that mobile sites should be prioritized; the most important and common tasks should take priority. Supporting the most important tasks is a measure - in Google's eyes - of how efficient a website is. Consistency in interfaces and unified experiences across all platforms is of the utmost importance.
3. Themes are Responsive
According to the same guide referenced above, responsive designs may take priority over other forms of mobile-friendly website. This means that sites that use the same URL and code regardless of the visitor's device and responds accordingly could rank higher than others.
Google's latest announcement seems to focus on customer experience, which should be a top priority for all websites. Pay attention to the tips above and make sure your website is ready for the changes that are coming on April 21.
About The Author:
Adrienne Erin writes weekly for online marketing strategies that help businesses succeed. Follow @adrienneerin on Twitter to get in touch, or visit Design Roast to see more of her work.