What You Should Know about Google’s Mobile-Friendly Update

May 26, 2015

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We are now living in a post-Google-mobile-update world. While some companies didn’t notice a change to their search rankings, industry estimates suggest that more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies saw their rankings change. Even very large enterprises such as Berkshire Hathaway, UnitedHealth Group and Phillips 66 produced pages judged to be “not mobile-friendly” recently.

By any measure, this update dramatically reshaped Google’s SEO criteria for mobile search. No matter how well your company ranked after the update, it’s critical at this point to understand Google’s ranking strategy going forward and what it implies about future changes.

Three Features That Improve Mobile Rankings

When Google announced the mobile-friendly update on its official blog, it stated right up front that the three most important considerations in “mobile-friendliness” are:

  • Text that is easily scannable without requiring the user to tap or zoom
  • Thumb-friendly spacing between links or field targets to make sure that users can easily hit the right targets even on the tiniest screen
  • Mobile sites are not running any software that makes content unplayable on many phones, for example, anything running Adobe Flash, which doesn’t work on iOS

These ranking changes only affect search results on mobile devices. Desktop, laptop and tablet search results will begin to diverge from those found on phones. For now, tablets are not included in Google’s definition of mobile devices.

Another very significant way that this update is different is that rankings apply at the level of individual pages. Company websites may have both high- and low-ranking pages, depending on how each page works on mobile. Now let’s look a little more closely at what these changes imply.

RWD Versus Dynamic Serving Versus Mobile Sites

In recent years, Google rankings appeared to favor sites using responsive web design (RWD). With the new update, Google seems to be backing away from that preference. Google’s official Q&A on April 21 was very clear that mobile-friendly pages don’t need to have responsive design. Google considers easily scannable mobile pages to include:

  • RWD, which refers to a website coded to adapt to actual screen size
  • Dynamic serving, which sends a different page from the same URL depending on the device detected
  • A separately hosted site serving only mobile content

If your site is not currently running RWD, Google advises that you make sure its bots are properly crawling and indexing your pages. Many analysts expect RWD to again become a major factor in higher rankings in future updates.

Thumb-Friendly and Playable Content

In terms of thumb-friendly spacing, Google recommends a minimum width and height margin of 7 mm between primary targets. For secondary targets, leave a minimum margin of around 5 mm. As a reference, the average width of a user’s fingertip is about 10 mm.

Finally, make sure that mobile users have easy access to your content. That means embedding YouTube videos coded to (iframe) instead of (object) and using HTML5 instead of Flash for animations.

What’s Likely for the Next Mobile-Friendly Update

One of the most surprising aspects of the Google update is that there is no mention of page-load times. People’s attention spans are much shorter when using mobile devices, and they have much higher expectations in terms of speed, redirects and loading errors. In the past, those features were major factors in rankings for mobile SEO. Its probable that page speed and load times will be the focus of upcoming updates to the rankings because of their importance to consumers.

What Deep Linking Means for Mobile

The other major mobile-friendly feature that isn’t mentioned is a metric for deep linking, the process of linking to app load screens and other pages deep within a website’s architecture. Deep linking not only helps SEO, it also helps consumers stay engaged. Deep linking makes it easier for users to go right from the search to an app download page or from a mobile email to a product page in an e-commerce site.

Deep linking encourages cross-channel campaigns, such as a promotion that links directly to a camera app where customers can take a picture with your brand. They can then post the picture on their preferred social channels for greater engagement across private networks. Look for better use of deep linking to be another ranking factor very soon.

How to Become More Mobile-Friendly

If you are considering ways to make your site more mobile-friendly, start by contacting Folsom Creative, a full-service web design, development, support and marketing agency that can prepare your website for the future. Whether you need to remedy your mobile ranking or want to jump ahead in the marketplace, we’ve got the answers you need, with innovative web design based on extensive market research.

We are dedicated to not just building for better customer engagement; we also provide post-development support and maintenance. Folsom Creative has you covered for updates to code, tighter security, and creative content management. All the way from professional branding and logo design to precision development incorporating the latest tools and trends, we can place you far ahead of your competition.

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