Edinburgh Web Development

Google warns mobile unfriendly websites

Increased importance as a ranking signal

by Iain Wilson

18 February 2015

Google are now sending out messages to website owners warning them if their website is not 'mobile friendly'.  They say that selected sites may have their rankings affected.

They've also announced that in April, a 'significant' change will be made to their algorithm for ranking sites on mobile search.

If your site is more than say, two years old, you may very well find that it falls into this category.  If so, you should consider making changes to ensure your site works well on mobile.

More and more people are using mobile devices - smartphones and tablets to go online, so if you own a website, you should probably be heeding the warnings.

According to market statistics company, StatCounter, in many countries mobile access has overtaken desktop access.

If your website was developed professionally, it may be viewable on mobile devices, but your visitors may have to pinch and zoom to view parts of each page.  This is quite different from a site that was developed to be responsive to mobile devices and 'mobile friendly' in the eyes of search engines.

Responsive websites sense the type of device being used and deliver the information in a way that can easily be viewed and consumed.  That information may look quite different on desktop and mobile devices.

Google's warning

Google are sending out emails to webmasters who have registered their site with their Webmaster Tools facility.  An extract from the email says:-

To: webmaster of http://www.yourwebsite.co.uk/

Google systems have tested 21 pages from your site and found that 100% of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors on these 21 pages severely affect how mobile users are able to experience your website. These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users. 

Looking at the usability errors for this example shows the following:

Mobile useability

Touch elements too close - links that can be clicked are too close together when you're using fingers to choose them.

Small font size - typically font sizes on websites a few years ago were small, maybe 10 point, now the average is probably 14-16pt.  Small fonts on a mobile will always need to be zoomed for reading - if your website is optimised no zooming or pinching should be necessary.

Viewport not configured - an HTML command that tells the device how to initially show the webpage.

Flash usage - Oh no!  Flash animation will just not work on a mobile device.

Not all sites will have these particular errors; they may have less, more or different.

Not registered with Webmaster Tools?

If you're not registered with Webmaster Tools, you can still find out if your site is mobile friendly by going here and entering your site address.

If your page fails the test, you'll get reasons and links on how the problems could be fixed.

What should you do?

If mobile access (smartphones and tablets) is important to you, you should fix up these errors as soon as possible.  If you don't, it is unlikely your site will rank highly on mobile searches.

The importance of mobile access to you is probably linked to the number of visitors accessing your phone on a mobile device will be determined by a number of factors not least of which is the type of market your business is in.

The age group of your visitors may also be a factor, but that demographic is pretty blurry now - people, young and old, are using mobile.

The amount of work needed will depend on your site. It may be  possible to patch up what you've got and that will clear the errors short term. Longer term you should really be thinking about optimisation for all devices.

Mobile access is already significant, and every indication is that the number is on the increase.

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