Google has unveiled a new tool to help users discover how friendly a website is in terms of mobile browsing.
The announcement goes on to confirm that the search giant will also be focusing on trying out this criteria as a ranking signal – potentially giving sites that cater to mobile devices a boost in ranking potential.
Within mobile search results, it'll also be granting mobile-friendly sites a corresponding label to denote their status. This builds upon a 2013 update that saw Google roll out ranking changes that penalised websites that failed to cater for this fast-growing segment of internet users.
Update Feb 2015: On February 26th, Google announced that as of April 21st, the use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal would be expanded - with a 'significant' impact on search results expected to follow.
The company also unveiled plans to begin using information from indexed apps as a ranking factor for signed-in users with the app installed.
While the search results returned on desktop machines are likely to be unaffected by the change, if mobile visitors make up a significant part of your user base (or you're unsure) it's vital to investigate responsive design before the update comes into force.
What Makes a Mobile-Friendly Site?
In its announcement, Google states a page is eligible for this label if its search spiders detect it:
- "Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
- Uses text that is readable without zooming
- Sizes content to the screen so users don't have to scroll horizontally or zoom
- Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped."
Fortunately, the new tool will not only allow you to discover how mobile-friendly your site is, but if it's lacking in certain areas will offer advice on how to improve your set-up.
Why Cater for Mobile?
While catering for the fast-growing base of mobile internet users is generally a good idea – Google's carrot-and-stick tactics provide a valuable incentive to play ball.
As mentioned, its 2013 update began restructuring search results for mobile searchers – putting non-mobile-friendly sites at an immediate disadvantage. This latest update indicates the search juggernaut is staying the course with its plan, offering tangible benefits to those who meet the needs of mobile users.
If your site isn't already catering for mobile – there's never been a better time to jump on the bandwagon. Simply enter your URL into the tool and if it doesn't meet the criteria, you'll be provided with the reasons why, as well as advice on how to fix these problems.
Naturally, redeveloping your site for mobile will come at a cost, after all it typically involves creating several designs for varying screen sizes. So you'll have to balance your desire to feature prominently in mobile search with that expenditure.
Similarly, some have noted that these features are merely something Google is "experimenting" with and pointed to other experiments – like Authorship and Buzz – that have been unceremoniously abandoned in the past.
And while this point is factually correct, my two cents are that it simply makes sense to optimise search results for the type of device being used to conduct the search. So I don't see the big G changing tack on this front in the near future and wonder if it'll be rolling out similar features for stuff like wearable devices (e.g. Glass and Smartwatches) in the coming years.
Do you think catering for mobile is a good idea? Whatever your thoughts, be sure to leave us a comment below or hit us up via Twitter – we always want to hear what you have to say.
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