If you care about keeping your trade publication’s online presence “above the fold” on Google search result pages, then you’d better watch out — because your website might become yesterday’s news when Google’s newest algorithm change takes effect. As of April 21, 2015, the search superpower will attach labels to mobile-friendly sites, singling these sites out for preferential treatment in search results. Just as Panda and other algorithm changes have continually re-mapped the SEO landscape for countless business, this one should cause some major tremors. Here’s how to make sure your own website doesn’t fall between the resulting cracks.
The first thing you need to do is determine just how mobile-friendly (or mobile-hostile) your website currently is. The quickest and easiest way to do this is by taking Google’s own Mobile-Friendly Test. Simply enter the URL where prompted and Google will analyze the site, alerting you to problems by posting red Xs accompanied by a brief description of each problem. Typical demerits include:
- “Text too small to read” – The text is shrinking in proportion to the screen size, producing a microscopic field of fine print.
- “Links too close together” – The smaller the page shrinks, the harder it is for users to pick out the right link among several squashed-together links.
- “Mobile viewport not set” – If you’re getting the two error messages listed above, this mistake is at least partly to blame. If your website’s mobile viewport isn’t set to scale to different types of devices, it will default to a fallback width that makes the page unreadable without some serious (and annoying) zooming on the user’s part.
Did you fail the Mobile-Friendly Test? If so, then you need to make some serious changes to website right away. Google’s April 21st deadline doesn’t prohibit you from correcting the issues after that date, of course, but if your competitors are all set to comply and you’re not, you’ll be playing catch-up in the search rankings — possibly losing critical readership in the process. Here are some tactics you should be looking into right now:
- Configuring the mobile viewport – If your website suffers from a fixed-width format, the least you need to do is have the mobile viewport set to a specific width such as 320 pixels, 1024 pixels, et cetera. But this will only cancel out the “Mobile viewport not set” error. If your website still looks too crowded for small screens, then you’ll need to alter the website itself.
- Creating a responsive website – A responsive website can easily scale up or down by sensing what type of device is connecting to it and reacting with the appropriate display. Responsive web designs take user-friendliness into account, not only by keeping the text at a readable size, but also by adjusting the tab sizes and locations for easier viewing and clicking. They also allow you to keep using the same domain (which Google prefers) instead of the modified domain required by strictly mobile websites (which Google penalizes as a “faulty redirect”).
Once you’ve made the necessary changes to make your website mobile friendly, you can expect to do better in Google search results, but you’ll also get another huge, possibly even more important benefit — a digital presence that actually encourages readers to keep coming back, whether you’re accessing it from a hefty laptop or a tiny smartphone. So embrace the future, because it’s happening right now!