After considerable testing and webmaster speculation, Google has finally launched a new search engine results feature which specifically labels “mobile friendly” websites. This new feature, announced by Google on November 18th, offers yet another signal to webmasters that mobile optimization is critical for overall online marketing success.
This new Google feature basically adds a small label in the search results page that identifies mobile friendly websites to users on mobile devices. While this is just a small step for now, it’s a pretty obvious signal that soon having a well optimized mobile website will be critical for SEO success.
This new feature fits in line with other previous comments from Google regarding mobile optimization. Last year, Google stated outright that websites with a poor mobile experience will rank poorly on mobile search. The exact comment was, “To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.”
At this point, every business owner interested in online marketing needs to take mobile optimization seriously. With huge mobile growth being experiences across basically all industries, it’s time for everyone to realize that mobile is a critical component of business marketing.
Mobile Usage by the Numbers
There’s a reason the online community is buzzing about mobile – it’s all about adoption. The reality is that mobile users and usage has completely exploded over the last few years, and the sheer size of the market is forcing businesses and marketers to adapt quickly.
Check out the data from comScore below. We can see that at this point, overall mobile device usage has actually overtaken desktop usage in terms of time spent on digital devices. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this trend for marketers. Businesses focused only on desktops could now literally be missing out on more than half the market.
At Tech-Critic, we see these trends in our client’s analytics every day. Even fairly “traditional” businesses generally see about 30% of total traffic coming from mobile devices, and more mobile-oriented businesses are seeing 50+% of traffic coming from mobile. The data is making an obvious point here: it’s time for every business to develop a mobile strategy.
What Does Google Call Mobile Friendly?
Back on the subject of Google and mobile SEO, once we understand that Google is beginning to give priority to mobile optimized websites, we have to start planning to optimize. But what does Google consider mobile friendly? Fortunately, they’ve provided a list. See Google’s comments below for a view into mobile friendly website development tactics,
- Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
- Uses text that is readable without zooming
- Sizes content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
- Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped
This a pretty straightforward set of guidelines that basically amounts to making your website viewable and usable on a mobile device. Basically any mobile website technology or approach should meet these criteria.
Google has also listed “negative” mobile SEO factors in the past that could lead to mobile-specific penalties. These include things like faulty redirection, where the desktop version of a page does not redirect correctly to the mobile version, as well as basic issues such as mobile pages not loading at all.
The Responsive Design Approach
At Tech-Critic, we generally suggest a mobile strategy to our clients called “responsive design”. This is a system where your website automatically resizes and reformats content to meet the needs of different devices and screen sizes. This approach keeps all of your website content on the same URLs, making it very simple to manage and optimize for search engines.
A more complex but still viable approach is the mobile-specific strategy. In this case you’ll create a set of URLs like mobile.yourdomain.com, and automatically redirect mobile users to these mobile page versions. This system is still fine for SEO, but is somewhat more complex. There’s usually no reason to use a system like this unless you have very complex website content that isn’t manageable using responsive design.
Finally, the issue of mobile applications arises. In general, we don’t usually suggest creating mobile apps for our clients. This is especially true for clients with brick-and-mortar businesses where the primary function of their online presence is to drive real-world sales. In general, the only case where you should consider a mobile application is if the content you want to provide simply can’t be implemented elegantly on the mobile web.
Ultimately, this latest announcement from Google is just one step in the overall direction towards an increasingly mobile web. We’re confident in saying that at this point, successful SEO basically requires a strong mobile strategy. If your business is still looking to develop a mobile presence, the Tech-Critic team would love to help. Please contact us for a free mobile strategy consultation.