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Recently Google announced that on April 21st it would be rolling out an algorithm update to ensure that users browsing on a mobile phone receive only mobile-friendly results. Google followed this announcement by sending warnings to webmasters via Webmaster Tools to sites to highlight problems with their websites for mobile users - possibly the first time that Google has explicitly sent instructions to webmasters about how to fix their sites to avoid being negatively impacted by an update.

Why a mobile update?

The number of users browsing the web using a mobile phone has been increasing, while the number using a desktop PC has been decreasing in recent years.

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Source: Smart Insights

As one of Google’s key foci in recent years has been on delivering a good experience to its users, an update which ensures that users browsing on their smartphones see content that works well on those devices means that users will be happy with the results they get from Google and will continue to search using Google.

Google’s notifications for webmasters won’t help people manipulate Google’s algorithm, but will help webmasters make their websites better for users which will also ensure that Google can provide good search results, whatever device a searcher uses.

This update will affect only the mobile results - but in a world where many websites are now seeing upwards of 50% of their traffic from mobile, can any business afford to ignore either Google’s warnings or the importance of mobile?

What to consider

In order to help webmasters prepare for the update, Google has provided clear guidelines, including a handy tool where you can check your site’s mobile usability.

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Google stipulates as part of its guidelines that sites need to work for all users including:

  • Avoiding technologies such as Flash that will not work on mobile devices - or providing alternate means of accessing that content
  • Resizing fonts automatically so the user does not have to do it him or herself
  • Not requiring users to scroll both vertically and horizontally
  • Ensuring all links are far enough apart for users to easily access using a touchscreen
  • Ensuring images are small enough to load quickly
  • Keeping page load speeds down as much as possible

Google also actively recommends that webmasters make their sites responsive, but does provide two other adequate alternatives in the form of dynamic serving and a separate mobile site:

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A responsive design gives webmasters only one site to maintain, where the URLs remain the same regardless of device but page layouts are altered using CSS depending on screen size.

Dynamic serving works similar to responsive design in that URLs remain the same, but the pages themselves have different HTML code depending on the user’s browser settings. This method is far less accurate than using screen size as sometimes mobile browsers look like desktops and vice versa.

Having a separate mobile site may be a cheap short-term solution, however in the long term can be costly to maintain as it requires two completely separate sites which get updated in tandem. With a mobile site it is vital to ensure that you send the right signals to Google explaining why you have two versions of each page and the ‘canonical’ version that should be listed in Google’s index.

What you should do

If you are concerned that your site isn’t ready for the update, check it using Google’s tool. You should then speak with your web developer about any small issues Google identifies. If your site fails the test entirely, then you should be speaking with your developer about making your site responsive as quickly as possible.

Alternatively, I-COM has a team ready to answer any questions you have about making your site mobile friendly and to help get your site ready for this update. Contact us on 0161 402 3170, email us on info@i-com.net or fill in our contact form and we’ll get in touch.