Featured Posts

Google Adds Mobile Usability Feature to Webmaster Tools

mobile usability

The importance of mobile traffic should not be underestimated. Earlier this year, comScore reported that people spent much more time accessing digital media on smartphones and tablets than on desktops. Also, according to eMarketer, smartphone users could total 1.75 billion by the end of this year.

Most webmasters understand this trend and have taken steps to ensure their sites are mobile-friendly. But is there more you could be doing? Google's new mobile usability feature could help determine the answer - and it might be more important than you think.

New Feature Reports Several Different Types of Errors

The mobile usability tool can be found under the "search traffic" category on the left-side menu of Google Webmaster Tools. From there, you can check to see if your site complies with Google's mobile-friendly standards. In order for Google to recognize your site as mobile-friendly, it must:

  • Have a defined viewport (viewing area) that adjusts to a mobile device's screen size
  • Have content that doesn't require pinching or horizontal scrolling to be viewed in its entirety
  • Have fonts that are easy to read on smaller screens
  • Have touch elements such as buttons arranged in a way that makes them easily accessible (i.e. they're not too close together)
  • Have an overall visual design that lends itself well to mobile devices

If Google decides that your site is lacking in any of these areas, it will return errors in the mobile usability tool. There are also plenty of help guides available from Google to assist you in fixing these issues. Potential problems that the mobile usability feature will address include:

  • Viewport not configured - You'll see this error if you're not using "meta viewport" tags to tell browsers how to adjust your content for display on mobile devices.
  • Fixed-width viewport - This warning shows up if you're using a fixed width for your viewport instead of a responsive design.
  • Flash usage - Content that relies on Flash will show up as an error in the mobile usability tool because many mobile browsers do not support it.
  • Content not sized to viewport - This error shows up when horizontal scrolling is needed to view your content on a mobile device.
  • Touch elements too close - Again, if your clickable items are too close to each other, it'll be more difficult for a user to successfully tap on the intended button or link.
  • Small font size - You'll see this error if users need to "pinch and zoom" in order to see your content on a mobile device.

The mobile usability tool also provides a chart for assessing your progress on eliminating these errors. It'll look something like this:

mobile usability screenshot

Is Mobile Usability Becoming a Ranking Factor?

While it's not officially known that mobile usability helps sites rank higher in search engine results, it's definitely not out of the question. In a statement that Google gave to Search Engine Land, the search giant explained that they're "aiming to provide a great user experience on any device, [and] we’re making a big push to ensure the search results we deliver reflect this principle. We want users to be able to enjoy the web wherever they are."

Also, according to the Webmaster Central Blog, Google will be labeling good mobile sites as "mobile-friendly" directly within the search engine results. The label has just rolled out, so its effect is not well-known at this point. However, it seems like common sense that sites labeled "mobile-friendly" will be preferable for a user on a mobile device - regardless of the actual rankings.

To quickly check if your site is mobile-friendly in Google's eyes, check out their mobile-friendly test.

T.J. Anderson

Posted on 1st December, 2014 by T.J. Anderson

About T.J. Anderson

T.J. Anderson is a Chicago-based content editor and writer, as well as an SEO and marketing specialist.

View all posts by T.J. Anderson