Panic! April 21st Google Search “Mobile Optimisation” update. What should I do?

Google Malaysia HQ

So, last Wednesday I went to the Google Webmaster event, and the presenter told us that on the April 21st 2015, Google will roll out the latest update on the search engine ranking algorithm, that mobile-friendliness will become a ranking signal. What that means is that, a mobile-friendly website will rank higher than those are not when you search with Google using your mobile devices.

According to Entrepreneur Magazine, for all this while Google has not been very clear on how mobile friendliness of a website could affect the ranking, but with the April 21st update, it will become a main factor. And also by the uprising trend of mobile users surpassing the desktop users, modern websites should be mobile friendly.

Is my website mobile friendly?

For website owners, first thing you want to check is whether your website is mobile friendly or not? There are a couple of ways to check.

Mobile Friendly Test
Google has come out with this useful tool called Mobile Friendly Test. Run a test to see your website looks good on mobile.

Mobile Friendly Test

Google Webmaster’s Mobile Usability
If you have added your website in your Google Webmaster Tools, you can check your site’s mobile usability checkup. From here, you will know what kind of usability issues your site is facing. The lesser the better. If you do not have a Google Webmaster account, then I suggest you to sign up for one NOW.

Mobile Usability

Google PageSpeed Insights
Besides that you can also use Google PageSpeed Insights to run a test on your website to check your website is mobile ready or not. After the assessment, the tool will give a score on your site, and also suggestions on how to improve your website to be more mobile friendly.

Google PageSpeed

Search your site with mobile device
Lastly which is the easiest one, is to do a search to your website on Google with your mobile device. If you see a “mobile friendly” grey tag infront, then your site is good for mobile users.

Mobile Friendly Tag

Why go mobile friendly?

If you care about your users, you should care for your users who visit your website using different devices with various screen sizes. User will get frustrated if they have to zoom in to part of your website just to read the content which is not user friendly. Like I mentioned before, it’s a global trend that now we have more users on mobile than on desktop. For example in Malaysia, my country, according to research at Consumer Barometer by Google, smartphone-only users is about 35% while desktop-only users is just 19%.

Consumer Barometer

Besides that, in the modern world, one user has more than one device, and it’s important to deliver the same good user experience that supports different screen sizes.

Consumer Device Usage Behaviour
source: Slideshare

How to go mobile

There are many methods to make your website mobile friendly:

a. use CSS3 media-queries.
This is the recommended and the easiest method where you have one website and you use CSS3 to control your layout according to viewport size. We usually call it “responsive website”, where the webpage resizes and rearranges when going down certain width or height.

b. serving different template
Another way is to serve a different theme according to device’s user-agent. Desktop users get desktop theme, mobile users get mobile theme. The problem with this is you have to maintain two different themes.

c. Redirect mobile users to mobile domain
Another common practice is to redirect mobile users to mobile friendly version on a sub domain, for example Facebook has “m.facebook.com” for mobile users. Managing the site differently could be pain in the ass in the long run.

d. Change to a mobile friendly theme
For WordPress owners, there are quite a lot of free themes out there that are responsive. Just search for “responsive wordpress theme” and activate that and you will get a mobile friendly blog instantly.

According to speaker during the Webmaster event, the method mentioned above of how you make your website mobile friendly will not affect the ranking, and will be treated equally. That means that making a responsive website won’t necessary be ranked higher than a website that redirects user to mobile site.

Act now

Multi Device Layouts

Yes, maybe the majority of your user base is still on desktop, but you should think further and take consideration to optimise your website or web app to become usable on mobile device. And for websites that heavily relied on SEO, and if your website is not responsive, then you have less than one month to turn it into mobile friendly site. Act now! And I need to make this blog responsive too.

If you want to read more about designing for multiple device, head on to this useful “Multi-Device Layout” guide created also by Google in their Web Fundamental series.

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