Do mobile-friendly websites matter to you?

Since Google’s announcement on mobile-friendly sites stated we should expect to see positive changes in rankings from 21st April 2015, lots of people have been busy.

The sites that aren’t already mobile friendly need to change fast, or realise that there might be consequences for their business. Even sites that were supposed to be mobile-friendly have been targeted with emails like this one because they aren’t fully responsive.

The typical issues non mobile-friendly sites face are that the font size and the “tap targets” are too small:

Example email from Google Webmasters

Notice how it indicates the number of pages affected and it gives you links to several resources to help you tackle the problems.

It seems that Google has taken the side of web searchers and is targeting sites that don’t work well on mobile devices. Many of us hate it when we can’t read a website on our phone or tablet and it drives us crazy when we can’t click the buttons because our fingers are too big. Worse still are the sites which don’t even let you see the “real” content because they don’t like your device. It’s certainly a quick way to lose a website visitor.

If you don’t use Google Webmaster Tools, Google will still take a view on your site… it’s just you won’t find out about it until it’s too late. I strongly recommend that you set up a Google Webmaster Tools account as I have seen mobile-friendly warning emails sent to sites that pass the Google quick test but have issues which aren’t uncovered by this quick check. Take a look at Google’s advice on getting started or try out feedthebot.com to check if a page has mobile SEO issues.

Why does Google care if a website is “mobile-friendly”?

Google is committed to providing searchers with the best possible results, regardless of their chosen device. Over 50% of website visitors are now using mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) when they browse. You might think your site isn’t important to your business but how do you know if you don’t check your web stats? How do you judge its value if you don’t sell online? For those of us with service businesses, we need to rely on less tangible things than shopping cart checkouts – and, honestly, how often do you ask your customers about their opinions of your site? I admit that I don’t!

Talking of web stats, if you are using Google Analytics, you can find out exactly what percentage of your website users come from mobile when you review the Technology section. The numbers might not reach 50% yet but you should compare the figure for the last 3 months with the same period last year.

This morning I came across a fantastic Google Analytics dashboard created by David Kutcher, which you can set up by logging into Analytics and clicking this link. It shows clearly where your traffic comes from and allows you to compare your desktop and mobile audiences.

Google Analytics Dashboard

When you look at the figures for mobile traffic, it is important to remember that people who come to your site initially through one device might well use a second device when they come back.

Personally, I often do an initial search and research using my phone because that’s what I have to hand. I rarely use my phone for purchases though. Instead, I create a short-list of sites and products to investigate further. Typically, I either email a link to someone who’s at a PC or I go back to these pages when I’m next in front of a tablet or laptop. Then I make a buying decision. My mobile visit is a crucial element in the buying process.  I have to be *really* committed to doing business with *you* if I’m going to go through the pain of using a site which doesn’t have a “responsive” design. If your site performs badly – if it’s slow to download, difficult to read and hard to navigate – you will typically see a much higher bounce rate than a mobile-friendly site.

Since last autumn, you may have noticed that you see that some search results carry a “mobile-friendly” tag when you search on Google from a tablet or smartphone. These are the sites which have been optimised so they are easy to use from your device. In this situation, I always choose the mobile-friendly version.  How about you?

Based on my own behaviour (and the way I see friends and family using the internet) I find it easy to believe Google’s statement that 70% of people who visit a site that is not mobile-friendly will never return.

Now Google is sending a signal that’s stronger than ever that mobile-friendly is the way all sites must be. Mobile sites are getting a boost in the search rankings already. Actively notifying owners of non-mobile friendly sites is Google’s way of pushing us all a bit harder. From 21st April, Google will push sites that are unfriendly to mobile searcher a looooonnnnnggggg way down the search engine results. And we all know that if you aren’t on the first page of results, you will attract very little search traffic.

What you need to ask yourself is “How significant will this be for my business?”

In truth, some businesses are affected more than others by having sites which aren’t responsive. If your business relies on connecting with customers in a specific location, mobile-friendly sites are crucial. Perhaps you’re a yoga teacher or massage therapist whose clients come to your location or a heating engineer or garden designer whose clients tend to be in a confined geographic area. You might have a tourist orientated business. In each of these cases it is vital that your site can found and used from a smartphone or tablet as Google assumes that a search from a mobile device has “local intent”. The logic is that someone looking for “pub food” probably wants to find somewhere to eat nearby. If you search for “cashpoint”, you want the one closest to you; not in the neighbouring town.

What is a mobile-friendly site?

Google has stated clearly that mobile friendly sites do not need to have a responsive design but it does believe that responsive offers the best user experience. This is the kind of design that flows nicely into the space allowed on a mobile phone or tablet. The navigation needs to be simplified so visitors can find their way around quickly and easily without any “fat finger” problems. It needs to be robust enough to work on a wide variety of smartphones, of all different ages. Then you need to consider the range of browsers for mobile devices. If you use Google Webmaster Tools, you can have a look at the Fetch and Render Tool and see how different pages of you site perform on smartphones. Keep an eye open for server errors, not found errors, faulty redirects, blocked URLs and blocked resources. These are all common indicators of problems for websites.

Another important consideration will be site speed. Mobile users are even more impatient than the rest of us when it comes to pages loading. The Time to First Byte (TTFB) is paramount because this reassures visitors that something is happening and they will be able to see the site momentarily. Unfortunately, not all web designers give site speed the priority it requires and sometimes the client is to blame. (Yes, I know the customer is always right but, actually, sometimes the customer is wrong!) I frequently make the point that a stunning site might create a wonderful experience for the website visitor but the investment in that site is wasted if it runs too slowly to be usable.

If your site uses a content management system, please be aware that some are better than others when it comes to creating fast, responsive sites. Also, if you are using WordPress, make sure your theme is suitable. It’s important that you don’t just take your web developer’s word for it when it comes to their designs being fast and responsive. Get some examples of sites they’ve developed for other clients and make use of excellent, free tools like GT Metrix or Web Page Test.

It is a good idea to ask your web designer to use a tool like Ish to check how well your new design works on different devices. If  you need to, ask for advice from someone who sees these things from Google’s perspective.

Be proactive – follow the advice we regularly give clients to optimise images with Tinyjpg and try a tool like the Share Link Generator if you want to provide social sharing links without the delays that social share plugins like Digg Digg can create. It is important that you give your web developer the best possible chance of achieving a first-class result for you.

Remember to follow the advice in our Website Update Checklist and use this as an opportunity to set up Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools for your website. We all tend to focus on Google but Bing is important too so be sure to set up a Bing Webmaster Tools at the same time.

It is often useful to set some performance goals with your web designer. Google’s target is that pages download fully in under 2 seconds and that Time To First Byte is less than 200 milliseconds. Get some advice on what is realistic and reasonable for your new site.

Moving to a mobile-friendly website design is often described as “easy”. In a sense this is true but the reality is that doing an excellent job requires Cartoon man with ball and chainplanning and sometimes some restructuring of the website. There may be discussions about ways to speed up the website and you need to ensure that the mobile visitors gets the same experience of the site as the desktop visitor. “Easy” suggests quick and simple when “detailed but straightforward” is probably more appropriate.

Have you thought about what a penalty would mean to your site if you ignore a Google mobile-friendly warning? What are you planning to do now? Whatever happens, make a plan and don’t let your website hold you back like a ball and chain!

If you are feeling slightly overwhelmed, there is plenty of help on hand both online or you can email Branchout or give us a call on 01608 68 69 17.

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