Serve (mobile) Friendly

by Tom Davis

Google adds mobile usability to the SEO mix.

An Okay Google search for ice skating in Dallas.Google has been evaluating websites for “mobile usability” for a while now. If you use Google Webmaster Tools you should have noticed this in the menu under “Search Traffic.” Google knows if your site is naughty or nice on a phone. They look for phone related problems like:

  • tightly spaced links that make clicking with a touch interface difficult
  • fonts that are so small visitors must zoom in to read the page
  • use of Flash

They must figure they have this aspect of their algorithm down pretty well because starting in late April (2015) they will begin using “mobile usability” as a “ranking signal.” But what does that mean?

Mobile usability counts now in search ranking.

At least for searches done on mobile devices. Google can sense the device a search is done with, if they think the search was made from a mobile device they will add in their evaluation of the sites it returns. All other things being equal, the site with a better mobile usability rating wins. I think Google very serious about this.

This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.
- Google

This will have low impact on most business-to-business sites. (for now) Plus it will have virtually no impact on your “branded search” results. There should be no way for a competitor’s SEO to allow them to rank higher in searches using your brand or company name. If that is happening, call us right away!

For sites that target consumers this is a serious change. For example, restaurants really need to be completely off Flash and have mobile-ready sites — now! Frankly, restaurants should have all done this in 2012 when their mobile traffic was starting to cross the 50% mark. But sadly, many restaurants have been too much in love with the flashiness of Flash.

Traffic statistics may start deceiving those not paying attention.

I can easily imagine discussing traffic stats a year from now with a business owner who points to figures that show they do not have enough mobile traffic to worry about mobile usability.  Eventually it will become a self-fulfilling metric. If Google starts pushing your site down in its results in mobile based searches, you traffic data will not show it. A classic case of the data not showing what you are missing.

You may not see a drop in mobile traffic. But the fact is, everyone is seeing growth in mobile traffic. No mobile growth means something is wrong. (At this time, more so in consumer than business sites — but the time is fast approaching for B2B.)

How can I be sure my site is OK with Google?

You can look in your Google Webmaster Tools account for this info. For those who do not have a GWT account, or you need to test a page before it is live, Google has kindly provided us with a web page where we can test pages for mobile usability.

One more thing...

I think it is interesting that this very significant announcement rolls out in a rather mundane blog post as opposed to the much hyped secure connection as a ranking signal announcement that I feel has very little effect on any given search. I am still not exactly sure what happened there.