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March 21, 2018

Google made EVERY search a mobile search

Google image on responsive design

It’s not just a warning anymore. Google is now ranking your site based on how it looks and works on mobile devices first. Not desktop. So if your site is not responsive and mobile ready your rankings will drop.

Is this a big deal? It is if Google says it is and Google says it is.

In the beginning Google was taking a close look at searches from mobile and started boosting a site’s rank based off of that.

“We’re boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results. Now searchers can more easily find high-quality and relevant results where text is readable without tapping or zooming, tap targets are spaced appropriately, and the page avoids unplayable content or horizontal scrolling.”

If people were still searching for your site from a desktop it didn’t really matter all that much. It didn’t matter until now that is.

Google has now made EVERY search a mobile search. Their entire algorithm is now “Mobile-First”.

“January 10, 2017 update: Starting today, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high.”

You have been warned. 🙂

Remember how it used to be?

Back in 2011 I was told that responsive design would never be a thing, and in 2012 my employer told me that he didn’t care if his site was viewable on a mobile phone or not. Eventually he wanted to build two sites, one for mobile and one for desktop, but after seeing how many different devices he would have to check for, he decided to give up on that idea. I again suggested that he make his sites responsive. He resisted making any changes until late 2013. I guess he figured that people wouldn’t mind zooming in on their phones to view his site. Eventually he gave in. Thank goodness.

It is 2018. If your site is not responsive or mobile ready you are hurting your site’s ranking.

Responsive design has been around for a long time.

You have heard of responsive design, right? If not, we have to have a little talk. 😃

First, let’s take a look at the three main ways to have a mobile ready site:

  • Create another domain for the mobile version. For example, m.domainname.com and domainname.com. This is what Facebook does, but it is not recommend for the majority of businesses out there. Two domains means you are going to have duplicate content issues. Facebook can get away with it due to their immense size. But for the average Joe, a site that has m.domainname.com and domainname.com will confuse Google some. Google sees both domains as two completely different sites. If the content is the same it will look like plagiarism and make it hard for Google to know which to rank.
  • Dynamic Serving. The content resides on the server and then the HTML and CSS is sent to the desktop or mobile respectively depending on the device it detects. Your content is the same so you don’t have duplicate issues, but since you are detecting the device and new devices come out all the time you may not have your site displayed correctly for all devices. That is a pretty big no no.
  • Responsive Design. The best option and the one that Google recommends.
If Google says it it must be true

If Google says it it must be true

A meta tag like this
<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
tells the browser that the site will adjust itself so that it can be viewed correctly by the browser. Well, actually it tells the browser how to adjust the content.

Without the tag the mobile phone will stretch the content to fit. With the tag the mobile browser doesn’t scale the page and the content is readable.

Google image on responsive design

Google image on responsive design

For example, a font that is set to a specific size, like 16px will remain that size regardless of the device on which it is being viewed. A responsive designed site would most likely set the font size to something like 2rem so that the font will be resized depending on how it is being viewed. Ideally your content should be around 45 to 85 characters (including spaces and punctuation) per line for web pages. This means for large displays you may want to increase your font size and for smaller displays your font should be smaller.

This concept also applies to white space and other elements.

Okay. Makes sense, right?

So, are you okay if you have a WordPress site?

Yes and no. The vast majority of themes WordPress uses are responsive out of the box, but it is possible to use an old theme, or one that is not made very well that will give you some problems on mobile. If you have messed around with your theme a lot it might have some issues as well. But overall WordPress is okay because it is just a CMS. It all boils down to your theme. You can change themes pretty easily, but if you don’t know what you are doing even that could hurt your ranking. Changing themes could adversely affect your SEO via site speed, missing elements, poorly written code, plugin compatibility, and so on. If you have any questions about the process you can always ask us.

How will this Google update affect your site’s rank?

Are you safe?

You will want to test your site to make sure. First check your search console and see if your site has any mobile warnings.

checking Google search console for mobile errors

checking Google search console for mobile errors

Google has another test you can do to check your mobile design. Test your site: https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly

When you test your site make sure you test more than just your homepage.

One common error is to have your site blocking resources that it should be showing on all devices. The robots.txt file can block certain files and directories from being seen. It used to be said that blocking certain directories and files can help your SEO, but it has been proven that there is really no need for a robots.txt file anymore. You can use them if you wish, but they are not needed anymore.

Another thing to check for is anything that blocks your content. Like pop-ups. No one likes pop-ups. But if you are going to use them make sure you are not using the kind that hurt your performance. Here, I will let Google explain it to you.

Lastly, there are some areas of user interface that you should consider. If you have a header image, make it smaller for phones. Use white space to your advantage. Too little white space on a mobile will make it harder to read the content. And finally, put your social links in a place where they can not interfere with content. Brian Dean floats his at the bottom.

Summary

Now that Google is putting mobile searches first for everything your site needs to look and function on smartphones without a hitch. If you don’t it will hurt your site’s rank. This is what Google is telling everyone. When it comes to SEO it is a wise idea to listen to what Google says.

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