UPDATE (as of 3/2/15): Google finally confirmed that as of April 21, 2015, mobile usability will become a ranking factor in mobile search results. Sites that don’t have a mobile-friendly, responsive website will be negatively impacted by this algorithm update. Learn more about the impending algorithm update.
Just yesterday, Google began sending out mass warnings to businesses who own sites that are still not mobile-friendly.
Is this a friendly little PSA from Google confirming that mobile usability is already a ranking factor, or *gasp* is it a warning that an algorithm update is coming and non-responsive sites should duck and cover?
“Fix Mobile Usability Issues Found on Site”
The messages started arriving yesterday via Google Webmaster Tools and email, strongly advising site owners to fix mobile usability issues on their site. Google then goes on to explain that they tested the site and have found “critical mobile usability errors,” which may affect how mobile users experience the site.
And they don’t stop there. Google then goes on to warn site owners that they will display and rank non-mobile friendly sites “appropriately” for smartphone users. That’s basically Google-talk for, “Get your sh** together, because otherwise, we’ll demote you to the depths of search.”
To see the message for yourself, here it is. I’ve even highlighted the juicy bits for you.
What does Google classify as a “critical mobile usability error”?
This warning really shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. For a while now, Google has been sending subtle signals that they’re beginning to look at mobile-friendliness as an integral component of site maintenance.
For example, just last October, Google sneakily rolled out a new section in Google Webmaster Tools called “Mobile Usability,” allowing webmasters and SEOs to check their site’s mobile compatibility. The section lists the errors that Google sees on the sites that will make it difficult for mobile users to navigate it easily.
Why does mobile usability matter?
Let’s consider mobile statistics, shall we? 80% of people now own a smartphone and tablets are fast outpacing laptops as not only the most important device for Internet access but also as the primary device people use to buy products online.
Therefore, it’s clear that mobile impacts not only your marketing strategy but also your entire Web presence.
Since Google’s mission is to provide the highest quality experience for online users as humanly possible, it doesn’t come as a shock that Google is paying so much attention to mobile usability. Even now, they give users a heads-up when they’re searching on a mobile device, clearly stating whether a site is mobile-friendly or not directly in search results.
How can you fix mobile usability issues?
Think about your own mobile experiences. What irritates you the most when you’re browsing on mobile?
Is it the slow loading time? The ridiculously small font size that forces you to zoom in and out of the frame in order to read anything? Or is it that irrational feeling that your fingers are too fat because you can’t click on buttons and links? Trust me – I’ve experienced and felt all of that, and nothing makes me want to close out of a site faster than one that is non-mobile friendly.
So what’s the solution? Two words: responsive design.
Responsive design is a flexible site layout that displays content and images correctly and always in proportion to the device on which the user is viewing the site. Therefore, regardless of whether your customers are viewing your responsive website on desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet, they can read your content and navigate your site with ease.
Is your site mobile-friendly?
The ever-increasing dependence on mobile devices makes it absolutely necessary for all businesses with an online presence to adapt to this trend or suffer from a low search ranking, high bounce rates, and customer frustration. Therefore, investing in a responsive design website is the best decision you can make this year if you want to capitalize on mobile trends and traffic.