Using smartphones, tablets, and mobile devices to surf the net might seem like a no-brainer today, but that wasn’t always the case.
As recently as eight years ago, desktop computer internet usage far surpassed that of mobile devices. In fact, the shift from desktop computer internet usage to mobile-device internet usage didn’t occur until 2014, which is relatively late in Google’s evolution.
The history of mobile devices, internet usage, and Google’s ranking algorithms unfolded as follows:
2007 – 2008: Apple’s iPhone hit the market in 2007 followed by Android’s smartphone in 2008
● These smartphones featured web browsers, which introduced mobile-device web browsing to the world.
● Web developers coded the first generation of mobile-friendly sites using m.website.com addresses that were separate from the original desktop computer websites. These mobile-friendly sites did not compare to their desktop counterparts due to limited navigation, “tall and skinny” layout formats, and significantly pared-down functionality.
● Though these mobile-friendly sites existed exclusively for mobile devices, mobile users didn’t readily access them, preferring instead to use their desktop computers when they wanted to go online.
2009 – 2011: Google developed and distributed techniques and guidelines for web developers to help them build mobile-friendly sites that are discoverable.
● Google published an article on their Webmaster Central Blog about how to make mobile-based websites faster.
● Google published an article on the same blog listing helpful tips webmasters can use to properly index their mobile-specific sites so that Google elevates the ranking of those sites.
● Google proposed additional tips about how webmasters can “run” both desktop computer websites and mobile-specific website versions together.
● Google published its first in-depth guide on how to make websites mobile friendly.
● Mobile website speed testing was developed by Google, which they released as a tool in conjunction with their “first page speed tool” in 2011.
2012 – 2014: Google introduced, adjusted, and refined its algorithms, updated its ranking factors, and provided webmasters with a new Mobile Usability Tool.
● Google altered search results for mobile-friendly websites using the final smartphone destination URL in search results.
● Google introduced ranking factors that penalize misconfigured mobile-specific websites.
● Google launched Webmaster Tools, which included a tool to diagnose mobile crawl errors.
● Google expanded the “organic search performance feature” in Webmaster Tools to specifically aid separate mobile websites.
● Google expanded its Webmaster Tools yet again by adding a new Mobile Usability tool.
2015 – Present: Google shifted from only indexing desktop computer internet websites to evaluating website mobile friendliness as the sole ranking factor.
● Google announced that site usability will affect mobile search results ranking, meaning that mobile-friendliness will be an official ranking signal.
● Google announced ranking penalties for mobile-specific sites that used traditional desktop computer website features, such as pop-up boxes, because these features interrupted and frustrated mobile site users.
● Google officially switched to indexing mobile sites to rank web pages, crawl content and SEO, and display snippets of sites in the search results.
● This mobile-first ranking structure rendered desktop computer websites less important in the world of Google’s ranking algorithms since indexing desktop computer websites was gradually phased out.
● Finally, Google completely dropped desktop computer website indexing, which means that currently Google only indexes and ranks mobile-specific sites.
Today, mobile friendliness is the only ranking factor that Google now uses.
Is your website mobile friendly?
In this article, you will learn how to keep your website visible in Google’s search engine ranking by improving the mobile-friendliness of your site.
As crucial as it is to please Google by adhering to their algorithmic changes, improving your SEO tactics, and following their guidelines so that Google bots crawl and promote your website, it’s far more important to please your website visitors.
If the history of Google and mobile-friendliness that we laid out in the introduction of this article proved anything, it’s that today’s consumers prefer to use their mobile devices to surf the net, browse websites, and even buy products. Given the evolving consumer demand for mobile-friendly sites, over time Google developed web guidelines to accommodate mobile users, which culminated in a new mobile-only indexing system.
As a business owner, you also have a responsibility to meet consumer demands and ensure that your website is mobile friendly.
A mobile-friendly website will not only get crawled, indexed, and ranked by Google, but it will also ensure that consumers can visit your site from their mobile devices, encounter an excellent user interface, and have a wonderful experience while navigating from one web page to the next. When visitors have a positive experience on your website using their mobile devices, they will be far more likely to become repeat visitors, first-time customers, social media followers, and even lifelong loyal customers.
Put simply, offering a mobile-friendly website will help you gain the appreciation and loyalty of mobile device users who quickly convert into customers. Additionally, mobile-friendly websites also ensure:
● Higher page views per visit
● Lower bounce rates
● Increased customer loyalty
● Elevated search engine rankings
Not all handheld internet-accessible devices are created equal. In fact, Google categorizes devices differently depending on their size and uses. The primary reason for offering a mobile-friendly version of your website is to ensure that visitors are able to read your content and properly interact with your brand. Due to the fact that smartphone screens are remarkably smaller than desktop and laptop computer screens, redesigning your web content so that it displays correctly on mobile devices is imperative. You don’t want visitors “pinching” and “pulling” your web content whenever they view your website from their mobile device. Ideally, when a visitor lands on your website, they will encounter easy-to-read fonts, an accessible navigation toolbar, and a clean presentation overall.
Here are the four main device types and the breakdown of how Google regards each of them.
The term “mobile device” refers to all smartphones, such as iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone. These smartphones include mobile browsers that use HTML5 specifications and function similarly to desktop browsers. Due to their smaller screen size, their default orientation is vertical. Google considers these mobile devices the most popular and therefore requires that website presentation on smartphones meet their guideline standards.
Google places tablets in their own category due to the fact that tablets typically display large screens that are comparable to desktop and laptop computer screens. For this reason, tablet users assume the websites they visit will appear the same as the desktop browser version. While you could offer tablet-optimized web content, it really isn’t necessary. Plus, Google does not place tablets in the same category as mobile devices, and therefore any tablet optimization you perform will not impact the search engine ranking of your website.
Google also considers “feature phones” to be mobile devices. The browsers of feature phones cannot render normal desktop computer web pages that have been coded with standard HTML. For this reason, feature phones rely solely on mobile-friendly websites, which means that if your website is not mobile-friendly, feature phone users will not be able to find your website, period.
With the exception of tablets, all mobile device browsers, including the browsers found on multimedia and feature phones, rely on mobile-friendly website design.
Creating a website that displays beautifully on all mobile devices might not seem easy, but it can be done. You will need to configure your website for multiple devices, which will help Google and other search engines understand your site, as well as ensure that mobile users properly experience your website.
There are three configuration techniques you can use to ensure your website will be mobile friendly. Those techniques are, using a responsive web design, offering dynamic serving, and providing separate URLs. In very simple terms, each offers the ability to use a template to create a mobile-friendly experience, but not all configuration techniques are the same. Let’s take a look.
The term “responsive web design” refers to websites built with HTML code that are able to render the original HTML code differently depending on the screen size of the device. Meaning, the webmaster only needs to build one website, but the code itself will dictate how content is displayed from one device to the next. Responsive web design is the most cost-effective, time-effective configuration technique because it has the easiest design pattern to implement and maintain. For this reason, Google recommends responsive web design over the other available configuration techniques.
Dynamic serving is slightly different from responsive web design. Though dynamic serving uses the same URLs on the mobile version that appear on the original website, it generates a different version of HTML code depending on the device the site is being displayed on, as well as specific users’ browser data. Dynamic serving enables a website to be fully accessible, however, Google bots tend to crawl this configuration differently than how they crawl responsive web designs, which means you would have to invest in server-side rendering as a temporary workaround for these crawlers.
This configuration method is as manual and tedious as it sounds. “Separate URLs” is a configuration technique that provides different code to each device category, each using separate URLs. First, the user’s device type is detected. Then, the configuration uses HTTP and Vary HTTP Headers to redirect users to the appropriate page. In the case of separate URLs, the mobile site will utilize a mobile-specific URL, such as an “m-dot,” “dot-mobi,” or even a separate folder altogether. A common myth is that this configuration method causes duplicate content that Google will penalize, but this rumor is completely untrue.
While Google claims it doesn’t favor one particular configuration technique over another, Google does place a high premium on ensuring that all web page assets are accessible to their Google bots. For this reason, the safest configuration technique to implement is a responsive web design.
However, implementing a responsive web design is only the beginning. Before your responsive website goes live, it’s a good idea to check, double-check, and triple-check that all of the mobile-friendly elements on your site will perform optimally.
Here is a checklist you can use to evaluate the mobile-friendliness of your website:
● Test Your Website at Multiple Resolutions
● Make Sure Your Menus, Toolbar, and Navigation Display Properly on Smaller Screens
● Check If Your Images Look Clear or Pixelated at Smaller Resolutions
● Test the Readability of Your Content
● Ensure Your Site’s Elements Provide Easy User Interaction
● Resize or Eliminate Your Pop-Ups
● Test Your Website’s Loading Speed
Now that you’ve been introduced to the basic rundown of what it takes to make your website mobile friendly, it’s time to actually test your website.
Google has developed excellent tools to help you evaluate the speed, usability, and flexibility of how your website is presented to mobile users. Let’s take a look at each tool and examine what it can do for you.
Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool allows website owners to analyze their home page URL, or any web page URL from their site, for a mobile-friendliness evaluation. This tool is free and will measure how easily a mobile user will be able to access, read, and navigate the website. The test results will include a pass-fail score as well as improvement suggestions that will help the website perform better on mobile devices.
Google’s Mobile Usability Tool can be found within the Google Search Console of any browser. The Google Search Console is a web service that Google developed to provide a way for webmasters to check the indexing status of their website. By offering transparent indexing status information, webmasters can make improvements to optimize the visibility of their websites. This mobile usability tool informs webmasters of the site’s crawl rate among other helpful metrics.
Remember, optimizing your website for mobile provides the following benefits:
● Improves SEO
● Improves mobile website indexing
● Elevates search engine rankings
● Offers a more streamlined user experience across all devices
● Increases mobile user conversion rates
● Offers faster download speeds
● Eliminates the cost of mobile app development
● Allows for continuous user experience improvements
Does your website pass Google’s mobile-friendly test? If not, contact us and our web development and SEO team can implement front-end and back-end modifications that will ensure Google is able to properly index and rank your site.
Our web development experts build customized web solutions with the mobile user’s experience in mind. When you work with FTx 360, the web applications and web portals of your mobile-friendly website will be stunning, streamlined, and impactful. Build a smarter brand for your business with FTx 360’s responsive web development.