Google dropped a bombshell on the SEO world yesterday, all be it an expected bombshell, by announcing that from April 21st 2015 mobile-friendliness will be expanded as a ranking signal. Here is a direct quote from the Google webmasters blog:
Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal, meaning more #mobilefriendly sites in search results. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.
The meaning seems clear here. Google intends to show mobile users more mobile-freindly sites worldwide.
This doesn’t necessary mean website not optimized for mobile will be penalized but does suggest those who have websites optimized for mobile users will be rewarded with more visibility on mobile search. How much? Nobody will know until April 21st when the changes come into effect.
Of course none of this is unexpected, as one twitter user and SEO audit specialist amusingly summarized:
Wait… so you’re saying the mobile-friendly SERP label, testing tool & how-to guide actually meant Google prefers mobile-friendly sites?!?!
— Steve Webb (@SteveWebb) February 26, 2015
Back in November of 2014 Google hinted at this very development when they started using mobile-friendly labels next to search results that met the mobile friendly criteria Google has developed. Here’s a direct quote when the tag development was made public:
Starting today, to make it easier for people to find the information that they’re looking for, we’re adding a “mobile-friendly” label to our mobile search results.
Source : Google Webmaster Central
What Are The Mobile-Friendly Criteria?
Direct from Google:
A page is eligible for the “mobile-friendly” label if it meets the following criteria as detected by Googlebot:
1. Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like flash.
2. Uses text that is readable without zooming.
3. Sizes content to screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom.
4. Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped.
How Do I Test If I meet The Criteria?
Google offers multiple tools to analyze your website and offer advice and action items to improve mobile friendliness.
First check out Google’s Mobile friendly test. No need to log in, just type in your website URL and go. Google will Analyze your site and make recommendations.
Alternatively, you can log into Google webmaster tools and click on the menu item called mobile usability which will flag up any mobile errors and make suggestions.
Another thing you can do is type your URL into Mobiletest.me. This slick tool will give you a visual of how your website renders on dozens of specific devices of all shapes and sizes.
How to Meet The Criteria if You Run a WordPress Based Website
The best long term solution is to adopt a responsive WordPress theme. Most responsive WordPress themes by definition should meet Google’s mobile friendly standards and provide a much better user experience for mobile visitors.
Where To Find Responsive Themes
The WordPress Theme Repository – WordPress.org has thousands of free WordPress themes, many of them responsive.
Themeforest – This is the largest premium theme marketplace with many thousands of WordPress themes available.
Mojo Marketplace – Another Premium theme marketplace with hundreds of available themes.
Mobile Website Version
If a new theme or redesign is not an option in the short term, whatever the reason, and you still want to be mobile friendly, a plugin like WPTouch may be the best solution
WPTouch is a mobile plugin that automatically detects when a user is browsing on a mobile device and presents a simple mobile friendly theme to frame your content.
Visitors also have the option to switch back to the desktop version of your website if they want. And you can choose from six mobile themes. WPTouch is free but also offers pro versions with more advanced features.
Plugins to Help Meet Google’s Site Speed Expectations on Mobile.
Your website loading times are vital, most visitors will click away if a website takes more than a few seconds to load. This is even more important on mobile, where users experience more latency. So below are a few plugins and solutions to help bring your website upto speed on mobile and desktop.
First, Test Your Site Speed.
Before adding any plugins or improvements check out your site speed with Google page speed tool. It will analyze your website and give you two scores. One for mobile and one for desktop, plus a bunch of recommendations for both on how to improve your site performance. Next for the plugins:
Download WP Minify
WP Smush It
By WPMU Dev
WP Smush.it strips out bulky non essential information from your images, reducing the file sizes without losing quality. The faster your site loads, the more Google will like it. And image loading is typically one of the biggest drags on page load times.
Download WP Smush It
W3 Total Cache
By W3 Edge
W3 Total Cache improves the user experience of your site by increasing server performance, reducing the download times and providing transparent content delivery network (CDN) integration. It’s one of the most popular cache plugins for WordPress sites.
Download W3 Total Cache
Other Considerations – Good Navigation
Navigations is essential for mobile visitors who are using much smaller screens. Most responsive themes take care of this nicely with a mobile friendly menu.
Fonts that look great on desktop often appear small and difficult to read on mobile devices, if you have a responsive design or not remember to check if your font sizes scale properly for every screen size. A good general rule for this; mobile visitors shouldn’t need to pinch out the screen to read your content.
Google has stated it’s new mobile-friendly ranking factors will be rolled out worldwide across all languages. Since different parts of the world are at different points in their mobile transition these changes will disproportionately effect some while others may not notice much just yet. How much this change effects you will depend on where your main audience is located.
Don’t get left behind, Google has given everyone a few months notice to make the necessary changes. And the changes you make (if you haven’t already) will benefit all your visitors, even the ones who don’t find you through Google’s search engine.