Google Set To Reward Mobile-Friendly Sites With Ranking Boost

mobile-friendly1.jpgAs mobile devices have become ever more popular, we have been hearing a lot about the benefits of creating mobile-friendly websites. This is important for reaching the many people who browse the web and shop using smartphones and tablets. Google has gradually been giving indications that it favors mobile-friendly websites. In the fall of 2014, Google announced that it was “experimenting” with giving ranking boosts to mobile-friendly sites.

Now Google has taken the next step and formally announced that, starting April 21, 2015, mobile-friendly websites will be rewarded with a ranking boost. This has profound implications for all website owners, removing any doubts that this will now be an important ranking signal.

Factors to Consider With Ranking Mobile-Friendly Sites

There are quite a few factors to consider when it comes to this new Google announcement.

  • All pages must be mobile-friendly. Google will be looking at each page of a website individually. It’s not enough, therefore, to only have one or two pages on a website mobile-friendly; all pages must be to get the rank boosting.
  • Javascript and CSS. You cannot block access to these files or folders if you want Google to consider your site mobile-friendly. We see this very commonly with clients where the /css and /js directories are disallowed in robots.txt. Luckily it’s as easy to fix as it is common.
  • Mobile index being created. Google is currently building a separate index for mobile websites. This could have a significant impact on the future of SEO and hints at a possible advantage for website owners to build dedicated mobile sites rather than, or in addition to, using responsive design.
  • Changes will take effect immediately. According to Google’s Gary Illyes, Google will begin boosting the rankings of mobile-friendly sites starting on April 21.
  • Applies across the board to all mobile devices. For now, there is no separate consideration for tablets as opposed to phones. The changes will apply to all mobile devices.


This Will Impact Search Engine Rankings More Than HTTPS

In 2014, Google suggested that it would give a search engine boost to secure sites, specifically those that used HTTPS rather than HTTP. However, Google later backpedaled from this announcement and said that using SSL encryption will not help search engine rank. Of course, Google often goes back and forth with its announcements and there is reason to believe that website security will ultimately play a part in SEO, even if there’s no immediate rank boosting for using https. The point is that Illyes has explicitly said that there will be a noticeable boost to mobile-friendly sites.

It’s best to remember that SEO involves many different factors and Google often changes its mind about which ones are most important. That’s why it’s best to implement as many SEO strategies as possible -including security, site speed as well as more traditional factors such as keywords, relevant content and so forth. The mobile-friendly boost is still only one of many factors affecting SEO. Simply building a mobile website or using responsive design will not, in itself, guarantee a search engine boost if your website is amiss in other areas.

Mobile Websites and Responsive Design

One area of confusion when it comes to mobile-friendly websites is the distinction between responsive design and having a dedicated mobile website. These are two different approaches for catering to people who use mobile devices. There are pros and cons to each approach.

Responsive design, which is web design that works equally well for all users, whether they are on a desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet, is widely seen as the most convenient solution. With this type of website, you don’t have to worry about building a separate mobile-friendly site. With a mobile website, there is also the need to create a separate domain name or subdomain, which can make it a little harder to maintain the site. On the other hand, quality responsive design can be complicated and expensive. Some website owners find that it’s cheaper and simpler to build a separate mobile site. Dedicated mobile sites also tend to be faster than responsive sites, which can make them better for conversion rates. As you can see, determining the right solution really depends on your specific needs when deciding to make your site responsive or create a separate mobile site.

There is a perception that Google favors responsive design, but there is no evidence of this. In fact, in a recent announcement, Gary Illyes specifically denied that there were SEO benefits to using responsive design. Apparently, Google only cares that your site is mobile-friendly. Whether this is accomplished through responsive design or a dedicated mobile site is a matter of choice.

What This Means For the Future

What do these changes mean for the future of website design and SEO? This announcement should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the latest trends in technology and search engine optimization. Today, more people make purchases using mobile devices than on computers. It was inevitable that Google would take steps to change its ranking algorithms to take mobile users into consideration.

Having a mobile friendly website, or a site with effective responsive design, has actually been a solid choice for some time. SEO aside, if your website cannot be viewed properly on mobile devices, you are leaving out a substantial amount of potential traffic and, if you have a business site, customers. The popularity of mobile devices has been a steady trend over the last few years. There is no sign that this is going to change in the foreseeable future, as consumers enjoy the convenience of smaller, highly portable devices. Google’s admission that it will soon have a separate mobile ranking system should leave no doubt that mobile-friendliness is about to play a major role in SEO.

When Google says it will give a ranking boost to reward mobile-friendly sites, the other sign of the coin is that it will, by default, be “penalizing” (although you should not confuse this with an actual penalty/filter) sites that are not mobile-friendly. This is inevitable, whether Google announces this or not. SEO is, by nature, a competition. When one type of site is favored, it’s at the expense of other sites. So if mobile-friendly sites begin to rise in the rankings, it will be at the expense of sites that do not have this feature.

To make your website mobile-friendly, Google suggests taking the following steps:

  1. Visit Google’s guide to mobile-friendly sites. This page offers several ways to make your site more mobile-friendly, such as by using software or a third-party developer.
  2. Take Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to see how optimized your website is for mobile viewing. You can test a single page on your site or several webpages and see exactly how Google’s own Googlebot views the pages when determining search results.
  3. Use Webmaster Tools to generate a Mobile Usability Report, which helps identify any issues with your website when viewed on a mobile device.

There is now no doubt whatsoever that having a mobile-friendly website is absolutely essential, not only for reaching a wider audience but for SEO. While Google’s ranking changes may take some time to roll out, it would be wise for all website owners to make any necessary changes before April 21.

If you need assistance with web development and making your site mobile-friendly, contact us today for a free consultation!



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