Mobile Usability and what it means for your site

By 2nd April 2015Digital Marketing
Multiple devices

If you’ve checked your Google Webmaster Tools recently you might have seen a new section in there called Mobile Usability. What is it? How will it affect your site? Should you panic? Can you safely ignore it?

What is Google’s new mobile usability update?

“More people now use mobile to access Internet than desktops”

General statistics for mobile usage are crazy. All the stats point towards a world invasion of mobile phones. More people now use mobile to access Internet than desktops. At the same time, mobile commerce is breaking new records every year. The peeps at Google haven’t been blind to these kinds of stats and have come to the conclusion that the mobile experience of a site should affect its search ranking. The new mobile usability signal is just that – an additional element in Google’s search algorithm which will affect how well your site ranks in mobile search. Here’s what Google says about it.

Google strives to always provide the best and most relevant search experience to its users. If more and more people use mobile to access Internet, why shouldn’t they include mobile usability in its search algorithm? Anyone who has ever experienced a bad mobile site (which is everyone) is painfully aware of the stress this can cause.

Mobile friendliness as a ranking signal will be implemented on the 21st of April and will affect mobile search everywhere in every language. According to Google, it will have a significant impact on search results.

What will the new usability signal affect?

“Google says that the new signal will affect mobile search”

So…this is an interesting one. Google says that the new signal will affect mobile search. Almost exactly one year ago, Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s Web spam Team Google’s SEO guy, said that mobile sites for the most part only impact mobile search results. This indicates that mobile sites to some degree could affect desktop search as well. Even though this specific update won’t affect desktop search now, we can’t exclude the possibility that it might in the future.

Should you improve mobile usability?

Yes. Even if Google for some reason were never to implement this new signal, the answer is still yes! Google says this update will have a significant impact on search results. Google are not known to scare-monger so their use of the word “significant” shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Someone might be thinking, right, no need to worry if it will only impact mobile search. If you are one of those, please consider that:

  • Since 2014, more people use mobiles to access Internet than desktops
  • Consumers spend more than 15 h / week on mobile research
  • 74% of mobile consumers search on mobile using a search engine
  • Search is the most common starting point for mobile research

If these stats haven’t convinced you to fix the mobile experience of your site, consider the following. A common user behaviour is to research products on mobile to later make a purchase on a desktop or tablet. If users don’t find your site in mobile search while researching products, will they go to your site for a potential purchase later on from a desktop? The site experience you provide affect how visitors perceive your brand. If your site isn’t user-friendly on mobile, will visitors be left with a positive impression of your site? Probably not, and in times of very tough competition there is no room to cut corners.

How do you know if your site is affected?

“There are a couple of tools to check your site’s mobile usability”

Google Webmaster Tool

Go to the mobile usability section (Search Traffic > Mobile Usability). Unless your site is in a top notch condition you are likely going to see a couple of messages here. Google provides quite specific details on how to improve the usability of you mobile sites. There will be links to each page on which there is an error and a description on how to fix the error.

Google Developers

Within the Google Developer site there is a tool which allows you to check page speed and mobile usability. Simply paste the URL of the page you want to check into the tool and Google will let you know how well you score in terms of mobile usability and speed. There will be information on how to improve your usability from this tool as well.

Field study

You can also use your smartphone and Google your site. Does the snippet show a line of text saying “mobile friendly”?

mobile friendly snippet in Google

What now?

Google will push the changes live on the 21st of April. It will take up to a week to roll out globally. We recommend that you check your Webmaster Tools to see if Google reports any errors as soon as possible.

We’re happy to answer any questions you might have regarding the update and how you can best move forward to make your site mobile friendly – get in touch!

Good to know

The mobile algorithm runs on a page by page basis. If you only have time to chip away bit by bit, update your most important pages first and work your way down.

Pages will be considered to be either mobile friendly or not. There will be no degrees of mobile friendliness.

Remember that mobile friendliness is only one of more than 200 signals that Google consider. Relevance and authority will always be key signals for any search. Having said that, the mobile friendliness of your site will still have a positive impact and make your site stronger against equally relevant and authoritative sites.