Figuring out how Google makes their search ranking decisions can seem like trying to solve a calculus equation – without a pencil. If that weren’t enough, any announcement about a change in Google’s algorithm can strike fear into the heart. Google’s latest focus is both good news and bad news for business owners. If you are ready – it’s all good, but Google’s mobile plan could put your site at risk if you aren’t ready.
Google’s mobile plan
Fondly known as “Mobilegeddon,” Google first announced their “Mobile Guidelines” back in 2015. It was a list of things that web developers needed to address to make sure their sites were usable on mobile devices. Friendly suggestions often aren’t though, and Google began considering website performance on mobile devices as a factor in search ranking. In 2016, several initiatives were announced that are part of the move to mobile – most recently, “mobile-first” indexing. Rather than using mobile performance as “a” factor, they are now using it as “the” factor for search rank.
Today, over one-third of all Internet users only use their phones to access the web and another third use a mobile device at least some of the time. Each day, fewer Internet users are using computers and more of them are using a device. Since Google knows everything – they certainly haven’t missed this fact.
In 2016, Google searches performed on mobile outnumbered those done on desktop. Naturally, Google needed to move their focus to making users on mobile happy which is the “why” of the mobile-focus.
Traditionally, website development was based on desktop computers. Designs became more complex with lots of buttons, bells and whistles – more was better and “customized” was the rule. More elements, bigger images, moving parts equals more “stuff” to load, which is fine if you are on a FiOS line with no data restriction – sitting in a chair. Not so much on mobile. In order for your website to work on a smartphone, it has to be mobile-friendly.
You may have been to a site and noticed that the text didn’t fit on the screen, the buttons were too small or worse – didn’t work at all. That site wasn’t mobile-friendly. To make sure a website works on mobile, some designs have a desktop version and a streamlined mobile version. The designer took the desktop version and dumbed it down. Sounds ok? Well, not really because most websites lose features or functionality in translation.
Mobile-friendly simply means that your website works on mobile devices – but it doesn’t mean that it looks good or works well. It was good enough for the first Google mobile update, but the fall 2016 update requires mobile-first.
Mobile-first means something better. Mobile-first designs are built for the smart-device right up front. It turns out that what works on mobile – works just fine on desktop. A mobile-first design will already have considered font size, colors, and text volume. It will also have taken things like “one-handed” use into account so that navigation tools and buttons are not only big enough, they are easy to use. And the site will look and function the same on desktop as it does on mobile.
Mobile-first also means that your website elements are optimized to look good and function well – but more importantly, load fast for mobile. Mobile speed is likely, “the” biggest factor Google is using to evaluate your website and will definitely have an impact on your ranking.
There are other elements to Google’s algorithm
But the bottom line is that if your site is not built with a smart-device in mind, Google’s mobile plan could be putting your site at risk. Going mobile-first with your website design is no longer an option.
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