Most Street Fight readers are probably already aware of the importance of a mobile-friendly website, but now there is actually a real deadline for brands and businesses to make that happen. Procrastinators take note, Google recently took to their Webmaster Central Blog to announce an upcoming algorithm change that will take effect on April 21st and affect large brands and small businesses alike:
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.
Read: Mobile-friendly sites may rank higher in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) than non-mobile optimized websites.
Like all of Google’s algorithm updates, the intent for the change in ranking factors is aimed at benefiting the end user, the searcher, by serving up the most relevant search results. In this case, Google would like to give users the best user experience once they leave the search results page when searching on their phones. Unlike other algorithm bombs Google has dropped in the past (Panda, Penguin, and the likes), this one luckily came with a warning and a deadline.
Important fine print
The impending algorithm change has definitely made the argument for a mobile-friendly website from a should to a must in order to not lose visibility for those webmasters/marketers/business owners that for whatever reasons have yet to adapt.
Googler Gary Illyes recently confirmed two important aspects about the coming ranking factor changes on a panel discussion at Search Marketing Expo West:
The algorithm will be real-time. This means that after the algorithm change goes live, you will benefit from having a mobile-friendly site as soon as Google detects the change. So while the argument is the sooner the better, there is no need to stress out if getting your site ready by the April deadline is completely unrealistic.
The ranking factor will be evaluated on a page-by-page basis. This means you can prioritize optimization of parts of your site, perhaps keeping some of the more difficult sections of the site for after the deadline.
So what’s next?
If you are unsure or even if you believe you site is mobile-friendly, it would be a great idea to double check. Google has provided a few tools to help you out as the April 21st deadline approaches. From the Google blog:
To get help with making a mobile-friendly site, check out our guide to mobile-friendly sites. If you’re a webmaster, you can get ready for this change by using the following tools to see how Googlebot views your pages:
If you want to test a few pages, you can use the Mobile-Friendly Test.
If you have a site, you can use your Webmaster Tools account to get a full list of mobile usability issues across your site using the Mobile Usability Report.
While you’re at it
Any time you’re looking to make major changes to your website, you should use it as an opportunity to get all the other little improvements that may have been on your list for a while. For example, is your site optimized well for local search? Now would be a also be a great time to start adding location-based keywords (think City/neighborhoods) to your content to improve your mobile rankings even further. You should also keep best practices in mind for the mobile user experience. How quickly does your site load? Not only an important factor for user experience (especially on mobile devices) but also a ranking factor (Google PageSpeed insights).
Mobile optimization is more than thinking about the search engines. Like Google, you need to think about the end user, that is your customers. One easy, yet powerful optimization idea would be to ensure your phone number and other contact-based call to actions are easy to find and interact with from mobile device (click-to-call) as many people when searching from their phones are looking to get in touch.
Matt Matergia leads North American business development efforts for mono solutions, a SaaS-based platform built for resellers to design, deliver and manage professional, responsive websites and e-commerce sites for small and medium sized businesses. Matt can be reached on Twitter and Instagram: @mterg.