Google’s New Mobile Search Algorithm

2015 has been described as the year of mobile Web. In many sectors, mobile searches constitute more than 50% of all searches and mobile search volumes continue to increase. With the emergence of the mobile Web, many Websites have failed to keep pace, providing a less than ideal experience for mobile users.

Websites that are not optimized for mobile typically have text too small to read, small buttons, links that are too close together, and features that aren’t available for mobile users. Google has taken notice of this as they want to provider search engine with high quality, relevant search results.

google mobile search

What Google Is Doing to Improve the Mobile Experience

Google has immense impact in its ability for Websites to gain, maintain, or lose search traffic. When Google issues statements and update their guidelines, businesses and Webmasters should take notice.

On November 18, 2004, Google began indicating ‘mobile-friendly’ next to Websites that meet their criteria in the mobile search results.

To help Webmasters, Google launched a Mobile-Friendly Test tool, updated their documentation on the Webmasters Mobile Guide, and began sending mobile usability warnings to sites in Google Webmaster tools.

Starting April 21, 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.

On February 26, 2015, Google announced on their Webmaster Central Blog in an post entitled ‘Finding More Mobile-Friendly Search Results’, that on April 21, 2015, they would be launching a new mobile search algorithm.

This algorithm update will be launched worldwide and will have a significant impact on mobile search rankings. In short, the update would penalize Website’s that aren’t mobile friendly.

friendly unfriendly

What Constitutes a Mobile Website?

A true ‘mobile friendly’ Website adjusts to the screen size of the user, whether it is vertical or horizontal. It’s adaptive to every browser, whether desktop or mobile, and uses the same HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code.

Mobile Websites can be responsive, adaptive, or a mobile-only Website, which is found with the m.domain. However, m.domain sites are starting to be phased out in many sectors. Large Websites such as espn.com and cnn.com recently switched from m. sites to responsive sites. While m. sites can provide a very good user experience the trend has been to go responsive, which allows you to manage all your Website’s content all from one place.

Another factor to be mindful of to pass the test is that each page of your Website needs to be mobile friendly. Just checking your home page is not enough. This is especially true if you integrated a non-responsive WordPress blog theme onto your Website or have a shopping cart that may not be mobile friendly.

Another means to check this is to do a mobile search for ‘site:yourdomain.com’ in Google and you should have a ‘mobile-friendly’ label next to each of your Web pages.

How Do You Fix the Problem?

For Websites that haven’t moved to a responsive design, it may be time for a redesign. To expedite the process and keep costs down, it can often make sense to build off of a responsive theme, which has a mobile friendly design already built into the code.

But achieving ‘Mobile-Friendly’ status does not have to mean you need an entirely new Website. For many sites, the existing code can be updated and design tweaks can be made to make the Website responsive.

This can help bring down costs and streamline the development and project time involved in comparison to a wholesale redesign. We went with this option in the recent responsive conversion of our own Website.

Once you have mobile-friendly code in place, you’ll want to the site on Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

mobile friendly test

There are pitfalls to look out for. Pages can be blocked by the robots.txt file, which can plague the ability to yield mobile friendliness. In a couple of instances on WordPress Websites, I was able to fix the issue by updating the code in the robots.txt file to:

# Old Code
Disallow: */wp-content/

# New Code
Allow: /wp-includes/js/

What Are The Costs Involved With Going Mobile-Friendly?

If you currently are on a tight budget or don’t have the time to address moving your Website to a responsive design, mobile compatibility can also be achieved if you’re using a Content Management System such as WordPress via plugins. WordPress plugins that can help accomplish this include: WP Touch, WP Mobile Detector, and JetPack. However, a plugin remedy is not optimal.

The other options include a site redesign or a responsive conversion of your existing Website. In many cases, we can convert an existing Website to a responsive design for a cost of less than $1,000. This saves time and money. We recently did this with our own site.

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