The Big Day

The Big Day

Today is the big day.  Not daylight savings, or tax day, or even my birthday (send presents, because you just missed it).  No, today is the day Google is making their big algorithm change to favor “mobile friendly” websites.

If you’ve been paying attention, you might be ready and it’s an exciting step forward.  If this is news to you, don’t panic.  We’re here to help.

What it Means

“Mobile friendly” is a pretty broad term, but Google are focusing on usability.  From their post last November:

A page is eligible for the “mobile-friendly” label if it meets the following criteria as detected by Googlebot:
  • 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

A follow up in February says:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

Reading between the lines, it means that your traffic will be impacted one way or the other.

Who Needs to Change

Google has released a mobile-friendly test tool to help you analyze your home page.  It only analyzes one page at a time, so it can’t analyze  your entire site in one pass.  What it’s good for is getting a general sense of how well you’re doing on your home page.  You home page is a pretty important piece of internet real estate, so it’s a good place to start, as you want as many eyes to land on it as possible – AND you want them to have a good experience.

How to Respond

The changes to Google’s search algorithm are going to cause some pain for some website owners, but overall it’s a good thing.  It encourages better code, and better user experience for everyone, not just the mobile users.

But the question remains: what do I do?

  1. Evaluate: Use Google’s free tool, or one like it to evaluate your site.  You can even use  your own mobile phone and eat your own dog food.
  2. Plan. With the information you gathered on user experience, make a plan to address the most glaring problems.  Keep in mind that you don’t need to fix everything right away, and it may not even be that hard.  For instance, you might be able to get a big boost in “mobile friendliness” just by raising your font size. But pick the low hanging fruit and the high priority items, and come up with a sentence or two that describes what the experience should be.
  3. Execute. With your priorities from your plan laid out, assemble a team who can get things done.  You might need to find a tech partner to help you, or you might have solid internal resources.  Make sure they understand why the changes are important (after all, nothing is really “broken”), and prioritize things.  Like any other software project, keep a firm hand on timeline for best results.
  4. Repeat. I prefer an iterative approach because you learn a lot about your software during the execution phase; you can take that new knowledge to the next evaluation cycle, and come up with a smarter plan.

Wrap Up

I’m really interested to see how the new search algorithm impacts usability on the web.  Many people use their phones to search the internet, and it’s not a particularly pleasant experience yet.  My hope is that the changes in search rankings will motivate website owners to work a little harder for a positive user experience on mobile.

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