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Is your website mobile-friendly?

Fortunately, the BBC News website IS mobile-friendly.
Fortunately, the BBC News website IS mobile-friendly.

From 21st April 2015, Google made some well-publicised changes to the way they rank websites. Google updates their algorithm (indexing rules) from time to time, so why is this particular change anything to get worked up about?

We know this will hardly affect some of our website clients – they are the ones with very little traffic to their site from mobile devices. On the other hand, a few clients have an overwhelming majority of their traffic arrive from mobile devices, and they could see a sudden drop in visitors if their website isn’t ‘mobile-friendly’.

What is happening and why?

Let’s look on the positive side. Google has decided to reward websites which are easy to view and use on mobiles with a higher position in the search results.

If you’re a ‘glass half empty’ sort of person, Google will be penalising websites which are difficult to view and use on mobile devices.

If you try to view a non-friendly website on a mobile, you’ll know that just to read a line of text, you have to zoom in and then scroll from side to side (as well as down) – this is not a great experience. The navigation might be a jumble, and the images either too big or too small. If it’s a complex website, such as an eCommerce site, it could be next to impossible to complete a purchase. If you have a site like this, you probably won’t notice the change as mobile users won’t have been using your site in the first place.

Google’s purpose is to deliver a better experience to people using their search engine – the people who help to generate Google’s income.

So, should I panic now or later?

Don’t panic at all – a knee-jerk reaction seldom produces a good outcome.

You may have read one of the many ill-informed sources that say your website could disappear from the search results if it isn’t mobile friendly. This complete and utter rubbish.

If someone searches for you on a desktop or laptop computer, your position in the results, good or bad, won’t have changed, regardless of what your site looks like on a mobile phone. Google’s change will only affect searches made from mobile devices … phones and tablets.

So what do I do?

You first task is to work out how much traffic comes to your site from mobile devices. You do know how to log in to see your stats, don’t you?

Your second task is to check your website on a range of mobile devices. This is easy if you have lots of phones and tablets to hand, but most people only have one. One of the problems you’ll have checking your site, and web people have building a site, is the multitude of different screen sizes on mobile devices – it just isn’t possible to check them all! However, Google have made it easy with a handy little tool called the ‘Mobile-Friendly Test’. This doesn’t check the whole site, just an individual page, but it’s a start.

Now you know the extent of the problem, you should plan what, if anything, needs to be done.

Bringing your site up to date

If you rely on your website or expect it to pay its way, you should be thinking about how you can update your site on a regular basis.

Mobile-friendliness is part of making sure your site doesn’t let you down (we’ve often heard people say, “Don’t look at my website – it’s terrible.”). Websites are subject to fashion and design just like everything else – don’t leave your site until it looks dated before you make some changes. This is kerb-appeal.

You also need to be changing and adding content … daily, weekly, or at least monthly. This is what gets Google’s little indexing robots all excited. And it you don’t excite them, there’s bound to be competitors who do, and they will overtake you in the search results.

Is this a big job or a small job?

We can’t give you an answer – this is a ‘how long is a piece of string’ problem. Viewing websites on mobile devices isn’t new and it isn’t a fad, so if your site was built in the last year or two, it should have been built to be mobile-friendly.

Some website platforms make this easier than others – old Dreamweaver-style HTML sites will probably need quite a lot of extra coding (time to look for another website system?).

As we use Headway Themes and WordPress, basic mobile-friendliness can be turned on with a tick in a single check-box … so we’re not panicking.

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