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Google’s next big shake-up of the way they rank websites is almost upon us – are you ready for it? With well over half of all web traffic now coming from mobile devices, it’s no wonder Google has been spending more and more time making sure their search engine works effectively for mobile users. April 21st 2015 will see the biggest mobile-related rankings change yet, with the mobile-friendliness of a site set to become a major ranking factor for Google searches on mobile devices.

As part of Google’s month-long Mobile Manners campaign to help webmasters get ready for the change, Google’s Webmasters YouTube channel recently hosted a Q&A with Mary and Michael from their Webmaster Relations team which you can view below. The Q&A is just under an hour long though, so here are the key highlights that we think really matter for your website.

What are the changes?

Basically, Google are tweaking their algorithms so that “if you’re on a smartphone, you’re more likely to get mobile-friendly results in your search results.” That means, if Google decides your site is well-designed for users on mobile devices, it will appear higher in search rankings for people searching on smartphones. On the other hand, if your site is deemed to be poorly suited to viewing on these devices, it will be pushed further down the search results for mobile users. This will, however, have no effect on Google users searching on their desktops or tablets.

Mary stressed that, although the changes start coming into effect from the 21st of April, they should take anything from a couple of days to a week to roll out, so don’t expect an instant change. She also made it clear that the updates will affect results across all languages.

Why are Google making this change?

The change is due to the increasing numbers of people using mobile devices to access the web and the fact that for many people mobile devices are now the only thing they use to go online. It’s vital for Google, therefore, to return a good user experience for mobile users, providing them not only with relevant content, but content that is easy to consume.

As Michael puts it: “We’re always just trying to give users the results that they like”

How does Google decide if a site is mobile-friendly?

There are a number of different factors that affect this. Mary highlighted the following:

  • Positioning of links and buttons – if they are too close together it will be hard for mobile users to accurately click the thing they want.
  • Font size – if your text is too small it will be hard to read on a smartphone.
  • View port settings – if you set a view port that’s not right for the device, set it incorrectly or didn’t set one at all, mobile devices may size your site incorrectly, making it hard to read and navigate.
  • Unplayable content – content which smartphones can’t play, such as Flash, will appear broken on mobile devices.

Mary stressed that “these criteria are not arbitrary things that we want to choose. They are actual pain points that users experience on small devices.”

How to check if your site is mobile-friendly

Google Mobile-Friendly Test

The Webmasters Relations team suggested several easy ways to check if your site if well designed for smartphones.

1) Take out your phone, Google your website and see if there is a grey mobile-friendly label in your description snippet.

2) Google have a “mobile-friendly test” which you can do here. You’ll need to test individual pages though, you can’t just put in your homepage and, if it’s fine, assume the rest of the site is too. The good thing here is that if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, Google tells you what the problems are so you can fix them.

3) If you have a Google Webmasters account, you will be given a “mobile usability report” with a list of errors and the specific pages on which Google sees those errors.

Mary also suggested “If you have a site, just take out your phone, play around with it, click on links, or give it to your friends or family and ask them – can you navigate my site? Are there any issues you are seeing?” This is one of the quickest and simplest ways to make sure your site is working for real users.

The take-home

The important thing to grasp here is that you can no longer ignore mobile without risking losing a huge chunk of the market. If your site isn’t optimised for mobile devices, users on those devices are increasingly unlikely to find it, as Google will push you down the rankings. If you’re concerned about the impact this might have on your site, the time to act is now!

To find out more about optimising your website for users of all types, get in touch with Marketing By Web today. We are a Bristol SEO company with the knowledge and experience you need to get your site ranking above the rest, whatever the device! Call us now on 0800 327 7 327 or fill out our contact form for a quick response.

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