Google stated “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.”
What is mobile-friendliness?
According to Google’s web developer guides…
The desktop version of a site might be difficult to view and use on a mobile device. The version that’s not mobile-friendly requires the user to pinch or zoom in order to read the content. Users find this a frustrating experience and are likely to abandon the site. Alternatively, the mobile-friendly version is readable and immediately usable.
They put forward the following useful statistic too…
In the USA, 94% of people with smartphones search for local information on their phones. Interestingly, 77% of mobile searches occur at home or at work, places where desktop computers are likely to be present.
How can you make your website mobile friendly?
Given that there are so many different devices and operating systems the extreme way would be to make versions of your website that are tailored to each specific device and operating system. That said, this is an extremely impractical way to go as you would end up with many versions of your website to develop and maintain. Alternatively you could create an app for each mobile device, but again this would be impractical and highly expensive for most small business owners.
With apps alone you would need to develop for a number of devices to cover all areas. These include: –
- Cyanogen OS
- Fire OS
- Flyme OS
- Windows Phone
- Firefox OS
- Sailfish OS
- Ubuntu Touch OS
You would need deep pockets indeed.
This is the real alternative. While a responsive design may not work seamlessly on every device or operating system it will adapt to most and provide a mobile friendly user experience. The biggest feature here is the way the layout and content adapts to the size of the device’s screen that its being viewed on.
For example, here is a mobile phone screenshot of our website before we updated it with a responsive theme
You can see, the font is small, you would have to pinch to zoom in to even read some of the text and the links and navigation elements are just as small and fiddly to use. Exactly the opposite of what Google is looking for in mobile responsiveness.
Here is a section from our updated website. This is how it appears on a desktop.
And here is how it appears on a narrower screen such as a mobile or tablet.
You can see if your website is mobile responsive by viewing it on your phone or resizing your desktop’s browser window. It should adjust the layout to accommodate your screen size.
What’s involved in Creating a Mobile Responsive Website?
From the point of view of a WordPress platform it is not just a case of replacing the theme. So far, in our experience this has not been a simple case of adding the new theme and making a few clicks before reviewing a shiny new website. If only 🙂
In some ways, converting an old website to a responsive theme is harder than starting from scratch, however, ripping down an established website and rebuilding it is SEO suicide. Not something we would recommend.
With old established websites the whole framework needs changing, so it is not just a case of working on certain pages, it is a case of replacing all of the framework code as a starting point. This is invasive as all of the behind the scenes code that makes your website work is being taken out and replaced with new code. Understandably, this can devastate the look of an existing website and the more pages and plugins it has, the more problems seem to occur. Also, non-responsive themes seem to have much smaller pictures that may need replacing, and audio and video players need to be html5 compliant, worst still some of your favourite plugins may need changing as some just don’t work or look well in a responsive framework.
While we never condone changing URL structure, there may need to be some change to accommodate the new home page and also to make new menus work better. Permanent 301 redirects are essential if this is the case.
In addition, custom branding will need to be revamped to fit with the new dimensions and layouts, which means inevitable design work if you have a very specific look. Alternatively, resizing key graphics, such as logos and using the same colour scheme can work well. In our case, we took this as an opportunity to rebrand as our old scheme and logo was looking tired.
Is Responsive Web Design Worth Doing?
100% definitely in my opinion. When the biggest player in search goes public about their mobile-friendliness update, taking no action would be detrimental in the long term. While there will be development time and cost, this is one of the biggest changes in how people consume the web since mobile phones stopped shrinking and their buttons vanished. A little tongue-in-cheek, but seriously, phones were getting smaller and smaller but then touchscreen became popular and now nearly everyone has a whopping great smartphone filling their pocket. With mobiles getting more like handheld computers and mobile internet speeds increasing this is not a passing fad. The mobile audience will continue to grow and mobile friendliness will be a necessity and not just a nice-to-have feature.