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Edinburgh Web Development

An upside if you're Mobile Un-Friendly

Google 'mobile-friendly' tags roll out

by Iain Wilson

21 March 2015
Google mobile-friendly tags

We talked about Google's 'mobile-friendly' tagging initiative in a recent article.

The idea is that they will flag websites as 'mobile-friendly' if the site passes their mobile viewing tests. 

Although Google tagging of sites as 'mobile-friendly' has been happening in various countries for a while, we can now see it in UK results.

Look at the accompanying image and you will see what these tags look like when you do a Google search on a smart-phone.  

Notice the Mobile-friendly text before the page description?  

This signifies that Google has checked that page and found that it is properly equipped to respond correctly to the characteristics of the viewing device  (i.e. it is designed responsively).

By the way, look at the last entry.  It's for a post to Google+ (Google's own social network) and goodness, it does not have a Mobile Friendly tag!!!  

Mobile Un-friendly?

By implication then, if your site is not tagged as mobile friendly, then is it mobile-un-friendly?  

Well, Google thinks so, and from 21st April it will be penalised in Google search results on mobile devices.  

Just what that penalisation will be is not clear yet, but Google says the algorithm update will be 'significant'. This makes it important.  

Putting a tag against a result is unlikely to stop a visitor clicking on the result to view the site, but putting the result on say, page 5 instead of page 1 will make a difference.

Is this fair?  Even if Google decides your site is not mobile friendly, the site might be completely usable on mobile. But because Google have decided that it wants a certain approach taken, you get penalised.  

Unfortunately, fair or not fair is a non-argument because they are the game owners - if you want to be ranked on Google mobile search, your website will need to be mobile friendly, on Google's terms.

But not having the Mobile-friendly tag on your pages is not the end of the world, at least not yet.

Page by page basis

Something that perhaps is not wholly clear about mobile-friendly is that Google have stated that this tagging is on a page by page basis in real time. So it's not quite right to say a site is not mobile friendly. It is the individual pages that are or are not friendly.

This means that your site could have a mixture of friendly and un-friendly pages and that as soon as you make a page mobile friendly, Google will pick up on the change.

From a practical point of view, you could, in theory at least, pursue mobile friendliness on important pages only, or on a longer term basis, spreading cost and/or effort.

If you can't make your pages mobile friendly right now, there is still one positive aspect, at least for the time being ...

Mobile friendly and the desktop - the upside

When Google first announced this mobile oriented change, there was a lot of speculation that the mobile friendly ranking signals would have an effect on traditional (i.e. desktop) search results.

This month in a Q&A session, members of Google's Webmasters Relations Team said that the new ranking signals on 21st April would be for mobile search only, and therefore would not affect desktop results.

So, not being mobile friendly doesn't mean the moon will fall from the sky, and if most of your visitors are still using browsers on desktop computers, you probably won't be affected too much at all.

Let's see what happens on the 21st.  

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Iain Wilson is Director at Blot Design.     Follow on

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