7 Facts Google Wants You to Know about Mobile Search Optimization
With more than half of all internet traffic coming from mobile devices, most businesses are aware that mobile site optimization is critical for usability and keeping visitors and customers engaged.
What’s not as obvious is the fact that optimizing your mobile site is directly linked to– and positively affects–your website ranking in Google search results.
In the past, ensuring that your site was mobile-friendly was a helpful piece of advice, but it wasn’t the end of the world if you didn’t make it happen.
Those times are long gone with mobile-friendly sites now the standard if you want your future customers to easily discover your products and services.
Here are seven must-know facts we’ve collected from the source itself–Google–regarding mobile search engine optimization.
#1: Google favors mobile-friendly sites.
First, let’s get caught up-to-speed on Google’s history in regards to mobile site indexing and ranking:
In 2015, Google boosted the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results.
The more mobile-friendly your page was, the higher it would appear in search results for relevant queries on mobile phones (desktop search results weren’t affected).
With the growing number of mobile users and searchers, in 2016, Google rolled out an update to mobile search results that increased the effect of the ranking signal to help users find more relevant and mobile-friendly pages.
The most significant aspect of the update in 2016 was that Google would begin moving to a “mobile-first index,” a process they project to reach completion at the end of 2017.
Why is this significant?
Google catalogs information on every webpage, known as an index, which it references when constructing and presenting search results for various queries–anything from “best online retailer to buy sports gear” to “red velvet cake recipes.”
Though desktop search results originally were not affected by mobile usability, that changed. The mobile-first index not only rewards mobile-friendly websites, but ranks the desktop version based on content it finds on the mobile version.
Although the reality of mobile-first indexing isn’t quite here, Google says that, eventually, there will be only the one index, and it will be mobile-first.
#2: Google favors a responsive web design.
When optimizing your site for mobile-first indexing, you’ll want to assess your site configuration.
Though there are three primary techniques used for mobile configuration, responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern.
With this configuration, your HTML code and URL stay the same whether you’re using a desktop, tablet, or mobile device, but the display “responds” differently based on the screen size.
The other important thing to note is that mobile design is increasingly the starting framework when building responsive sites. Traditionally, designers and developers would build sites for desktop and then adapt that version for mobile.
Now, the recommended path is the other way around–build for mobile and adapt it for desktop.
#3: You can test how well your site supports mobile traffic.
If you’re wondering how to even gauge your site’s mobile friendliness, you’ll be happy to find that Google offers a free test to help determine where your site stands from their perspective.
Simply enter the page URL and bingo–you’ll be told in simple terms whether the page is mobile-friendly or not.
The results will show you a screenshot of how the page looks to Google on a mobile device, as well as a list of any specific problems it discovers, such as small font sizes (which aren’t as legible on small screens) or the use of Flash (which isn’t a supported video format on many mobile devices).
#4: Your mobile site should load quickly.
In July 2016, research found that the average U.S. retail mobile site loaded in 6.9 seconds, but 74% of consumers will wait 5 seconds or less for a webpage to load before abandoning it (source).
This can have a serious negative financial impact on retailers since 30% of all online shopping purchases now happen on mobile phones (source).
Google encourages your site to render in under one second, particularly the “above the fold” content. You can use Google PageSpeed to test how fast your pages render and load.
#5: The user experience is more important than marketing.
It’s probably happened to you.
After clicking a link on your phone to visit a website, an overlay (such as the example above) advertising a product or promotion shows up on the screen.
All you want to do is to consume or browse the content on the actual website, but your focus is now broken, or worse, you can’t figure out how to close the overlay.
What happens? Like many people, you move on to another app or site.
On desktop, it’s common for e-commerce sites to include marketing tactics such as interstitials or overlays encouraging visitors to take a particular action or advertising a product.
Google discourages and devalues these site elements on mobile as they often interrupt users from consuming your content and lead to a bad user experience overall.
If your site’s robot.txt file disallows crawling of these elements, it can result in lower rankings.
The idea of allowing a bot to crawl through your site may sound unsettling, but we promise…these bots aren’t the malicious kind and will only help your site and its rankings.
#7: Never include content unavailable to mobile users.
It’s always a bit anticlimactic to click “play” on a video only to be served a message saying that the video can’t be viewed on your device.
Therefore, Google advises against videos that contain license restrictions or that require Flash, as they tend to be unavailable to mobile users. Be sure to use video-embedding that allows content to play on all devices.
Google’s mobile-first indexing isn’t in effect quite yet, but they’ve made it clear that that’s where things are headed.
It’s critically important that site owners take the time to implement Google’s suggestions (such as the ones listed above) to ensure your site won’t be devalued in future search results, whether they be on mobile or desktop.
As mentioned in this post, Google has a sweet spot for sites with good user experience. Learn more about how user experience affects your site’s ranking in search engine results here.