Mobile-friendliness as a Ranking Signal

Google Mobile-friendlinessRecently Google announced that they will be “expanding their use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal”. The proposed change to the search algorithm will be rolled out on the 21st April 2015. It is predicted it will take around a week to complete and is expected to have a significant impact on search results, ultimately providing users with only relevant, high quality content that is optimised for the device they are using.

When an internet search is made, using any of the multiple search engines that are available, the searcher expects to be presented with a list of results that are best suited to their needs. This means that not only does the website they eventually arrive at need to contain relevant content, be easy to read and provide a well rounded user experience, it also needs to function and display correctly, regardless of the type of device they are using. Therefore the need to have a site that is fully optimised for mobile is very close to being a necessity.

Searches from mobile devices are increasing and are expected by many to exceed desktop searches during the coming year. It is for this reason that search engines are beginning to update their algorithms in order to target mobile-friendly websites and continue providing searchers with the best possible results.

What does this mean for the website owner?

Google’s announcement has generated a huge response among website owners, marketers, developers and designers, with reactions ranging from sheer panic to complete nonchalance. I have even read reports of people blocking their websites from Google until they have made it mobile-optimised in fear of receiving a penalty.

The good news is it is unlikely that any website will receive a penalty for their lack of mobile-friendliness, Google will be simply giving websites that are mobile-optimised more love. The bad news is that if your website is not mobile-friendly you are likely to lose ranking positions for mobile searches, resulting in fewer visits and ultimately fewer conversions.

There are a number of ways to approach this update in Google's algorithm. You may decide that the majority of your visitors are using desktop devices and therefore you don’t need to be mobile-optimised or you may be of the mindset that you need mobile, and you need it now! Either way there are a few things to think about before you make any rash decisions.

More good news, this update is going to be what’s known as a live algorithm, which means that if your website is not currently mobile-friendly all is not lost. As soon as your website is mobile ready Google will notice and almost instantly reconsider your ranking positions in mobile search.

Something else to consider is that this will be a page by page update, meaning that if some of your site isn’t mobile-optimised then the whole site won’t suffer and only the pages that are not mobile-friendly will be affected.

How do I tell if my site is mobile-friendly?

First of all, if you are not sure if your site is considered mobile-friendly the quickest way to find out is to use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. This test will analyse the URL of your website and report on whether or not you have a mobile-friendly design. Remember that this tool will only tell you if the specific page that you have entered is mobile-friendly, other pages of your site may not be so it is worth checking a few of your pages, including your homepage, just to make sure. If you're still not sure then contact your developer or give us a shout and we’ll have a look for you.

What if it is?

If your site is already mobile-friendly then congratulations, you are one step ahead of the game and ready to take on the next phase of Google's search algorithm. You can skip the rest of this article and celebrate with a cold beer.

What if it isn’t?

If your site isn’t mobile-optimised and you already receive good traffic from mobile search then this will change within a couple of weeks following 21st April. As I mentioned earlier, don’t panic, there is still time to organise a responsive design and develop your site to be mobile-friendly. The last thing you want to do is rush it and end up with poorly implemented designs that will need to be changed again before too long - remember, this is a live algorithm and Google will start to share the love as soon as you’re ready.

However, I would still highly recommend that you make your site mobile-friendly as soon as possible. Get in touch with your developer, or give us a call at Ballyhoo, to discuss what can be done to make your site responsive and ensure that you maintain your rankings in mobile search.

What if I don’t want my site to be mobile-friendly?

You may feel that you won't be affected by this change, your traffic might be mainly from desktop devices, either directly or through referrals and you are of the opinion that mobile traffic isn't important. If this is the case, and you can't be convinced that making your site mobile-friendly is one of the most important things you could do for your business this year, then all is not lost.

As I mentioned earlier - this is a live algorithm, your website is not going to be condemned to the fiery depths of Google hell. When you start to notice a drop in traffic, decide to bring your site up to modern standards or realise that this update has also had an effect on your desktop searches (there are few theories rattling around about whether this will be the case but nothing solid as yet) then there will still be a chance to redevelop your site to be mobile-friendly and hopefully regain any lost ranking positions.

Something else to consider - someone finds your website, through search on their desktop machine and decides to share a link with their friends on social media, in an email or in a text message. What devices are the recipients of the shared link using to view your website?

My thoughts

Regardless of whether or not you think you will be affected by this change in Google’s search algorithm my advice would be to implement a fully responsive design as soon as possible. As I mentioned earlier mobile devices are becoming widely used as the main web browsing tool and mobile search will overtake desktop search in the not-so-distant future.

Google’s decision to consider mobile-friendliness in its search results was not made on a whim and it's not likely to be just another update from Google that falls by the wayside.

Despite all this, the fact of the matter is people use their smartphones, tablets, iPods, iPads and iPhones to browse the Internet and fewer households own desktop computers. If you want your website to remain a valuable resource and/or make sales and conversions, then it needs to operate well, function well and look good regardless of the device that is being used to view it on!

My final piece of advice would be to take advantage of this update. If your competitors decide that they don’t need to be mobile-friendly then optimising your own website could make the difference in who pips it to the post on the first page of Google mobile search. This could be your opportunity to overtake them!

Take a look at some of Ballyhoo's recent projects that we have built to be fully responsive and tested across a huge range of devices.


If you need any help in checking your website or would like to discuss how we can help you to make sure you are not affected by Google’s changes to mobile search then please feel free to contact Ballyhoo either by telephone on 021 288 1100 email to hello@ballyhoo.co.uk or by filling out the contact form on our contact page.

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Sam

By Sam

Sam is Ballyhoo's online marketing expert, managing online marketing strategies big and small for our customers.

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