Implementing mobile-friendly search
Written by Sarah Rowland
Last updated: 19/09/2016
As you may or may have not heard, in February this year, Google announced plans to implement mobile-friendly search as a search-ranking factor to ensure that its users will get the most relevant and timely search results when using mobile devices.
As of 21st April 2015, Google’s search algorithm updated to suit the increasing mobile usage patterns of its users, ensuring it will be easier to find mobile-friendly web pages, and that useful content is also gleaned from apps for signed-in users with the app installed using ‘App Indexing’.
In light of this, if your site isn’t fully optimised for mobile devices, you would have likely seen a hit to your ranking on mobile search, which is why some have started calling it ‘Mobilegeddon’.
At the time, Google said, “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 optimised for their devices.” Read the full Google announcement can be found here.
Mobile search in the superyacht industry
With mobile search reportedly making up about 30% of total search traffic, regardless of the industry in which you work, these updates are a relevant topic for most of us.
It is, therefore, an update that is extremely relevant to those working within the maritime industry: Captains and crew regularly use mobile devices to search for marine businesses, and to source products and services as they travel to new and far-flung destinations. With improvements in Internet access at sea, this is a search trend that is only set to increase.
Is this an urgent project?
The urgency of this project, of course, depends on how many of your users are using mobile-devices to find your business. Knowing how to calculate the expected traffic-loss for your website could therefore help to decide when your business should prioritise this project.
Regardless of its expected influence on your search traffic, mobile-search should however be a priority for all businesses due to the rapid adoption and expected growth of the sector. Ignoring the update could in fact find you losing out to competitors.
How to prepare for the update?
Search Engine Land makes three recommendations for optimising your mobile web search presence, helping your business to stand the best chance of succeeding in web rankings in light of the upcoming changes:
- Identify and improve your mobile-web optimisation status: Even if your website is already mobile-ready, it’s a good idea to do a mobile SEO audit so that Google can correctly identify and serve your mobile content.
- Access your mobile web search visibility and traffic behaviour: Identifying the top queries and top pages of your mobile search traffic can help you to understand your mobile search visibility and user behavior, as well as your top mobile search competitors.
- Mobile app bonus: If you have a mobile app, you can target mobile users, encouraging them to download your app and ensure that it’s content is indexed by Google.
Test your website
Google Webmasters has produced a free, handy tool to let you know exactly what is needed to prime your site for the new algorithm. You can find it, here.
Enter the URL of your webpage(s) and you’ll see whether your website is mobile-friendly, or not, and the recommended actions to take.
While, if you receive errors, it may seem as if you’ll need to carry out a costly redesign to rectify the issues, moving to a mobile optimised content management system, blog or landing page will likely fix most of them.
While having an app is great for the new update, and for users, it won’t wash with Google single-handedly. Google states that, “…users should get the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps.” All domains must therefore have a mobile-friendly website strategy in place also to ensure ease-of-use for all visitors.
Choose your mobile optimisation approach
Google recognises three different ‘mobile-friendly’ configurations to protect your rankings from punishment with the new changes:
- Responsive design: Responsive web design is Google’s number one recommendation for mobile success. The reason? It does not create two copies of the same website. Users only have to go to one URL and the website will adapt to their chosen device.
- Dynamic serving: Like responsive design, dynamic serving keeps the same URL, but this time, instead changes the HTML. Dynamic serving uses user-agents to find out what kind of device the user is using to access your website before dynamically serving up the appropriate view. Google does, in fact, recognise this technique to be error-prone, but it is an option that passes the mobile optimisation test all the same.
- Mobile website: As you have guessed, creating a separate mobile website also works for Google’s new requirements. When a mobile user attempts to access a URL, it will automatically redirect mobile users to the mobile website. This is not a recommended course of action as it requires you to create and maintain - and Google to crawl – two versions of your content. In addition, it can be a possibly disruptive experience for someone on a desktop computer who may unknowingly click a shared mobile link on social media.
Now you’re fully informed of all the options for mobile optimisation, what next? In addition to its new mobile Webmasters tool, Google answered some frequently asked questions (FAQs) you might have about the change:
I’m not ready for a redesign. Do I have to do this now?
In line with recent findings, you may not need to completely redesign your website to comply with Google’s mobile-friendly requirements. What you should do is move your existing website to a mobile-friendly platform as soon as possible.
Is my site permanently pensalised if I don’t optimise for mobile now?
In short, no. It is possible to rebuild site credit at a later date, but, especially if a lot of your users are mobile users, you should try to move quickly in order to avoid losing traffic.
What other elements should I consider optimising for mobile?
In addition to ensuring that your webpages load properly, and that the font is big enough, it may be worth considering the length of content and forms on mobile devices. If you have a tool that allows you to swap forms for those visiting on mobile devices, build shorter forms into your strategy.
Furthermore, you may also want to consider variations in mobile device user behaviour, adapting your content strategy in line with this.