Google Throws Down the Gauntlet on Mobile Usability
Back in December, we reported that Google was adding a mobile usability feature to Webmaster Tools. The feature is designed to help webmasters determine which pages on their site are not mobile-friendly, and it provides suggestions for fixing usability issues.
At the time, it was questionable whether or not Google considered mobile usability to be a ranking factor. Now, however, the search giant has sent emails to webmasters directly indicating that pages not considered mobile-friendly will be "displayed and ranked appropriately." This makes it clear that mobile usability will affect rank.
Message Urges Webmasters to "Fix This Now"
In the email, Google outlines the number of pages they've analyzed on your site, followed by the percentage of those pages that have "critical mobile usability errors." It then states that "these pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users." Google has already added labels in their search results that tell a user whether or not a site is mobile-friendly, but this new message clearly seems to indicate that mobile usability will taken into account when deciding where a site actually ranks within the results. Simply put, if your site isn't mobile friendly, you might be seeing a drop in mobile traffic in the near future.
The rest of the message goes on to outline where a webmaster can learn about fixing their mobile usability issues. It looks like this:
If you don't have Webmaster Tools, you can still run your site through Google's mobile friendly test to see whether or not your site might take a hit in the rankings.
Google Reacting to Trends in Internet Use
While this announcement could be perceived as just another way for Google to try controlling the internet and forcing sites to bend to their whim, it's easy to see why they'd add mobile usability to their ranking algorithm. Everybody knows that mobile devices are a huge and growing part of how people access the internet. In fact, comScore reported as early as May 2014 that mobile accounted for 60 percent of all the time people spent on digital devices. Time spent on desktops consistently decreased over the same timeframe. In order for Google to consistently provide results that their users find valuable, they simply cannot ignore the fact that so many people use mobile. If users consistently see results that are difficult to navigate on small screens, they'll likely start using a more helpful service.
Tons of sites already have mobile versions or mobile-friendly layouts. For those that don't, Google is looking mainly for five things:
- A defined viewport that adjusts to smaller screen sizes
- Fonts that are easily readable on small screens
- Buttons and other touch elements that are large and separated
- Content that can be viewed in its entirety without having to scroll horizontally or pinch and expand
- An overall design that facilitates mobile use
Without these elements, your site is at risk of being left in the dust. For more information about how to improve your sites's mobile usability, check out Google's mobile guide.