This guest blog post was contributed by Monsoon Commerce customer, Andrew Carr of Mobius Commerce.
If you have received a recent message from Google Webmaster Tools regarding your website being “Mobile-Friendly”, it’s important to take action to address this issue. As stated on the Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. 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 optimized for their devices.”
Zineb Ait Bahajji, a member of Google’s Webmaster Trends team, was quoted at SMX Munich as saying that the new mobile-friendly algorithm change will have more of an impact on search rankings than either Panda or Penguin, two of the largest and most impactful search algorithm updates Google has ever launched.
One thing to note is that the algorithm is applied page by page. This means that each page’s mobile friendliness is judged separately. That’s good news if your eCommerce catalog is mobile-friendly but your forums or other content sections are not. The unfriendly sections will not cause your entire site to be ranked as unfriendly.
Google currently offers two ways you can check your mobile friendliness:
- If you want to test a few pages, you can use the Mobile-Friendly Test.
- If you have a site, you can use your Webmaster Tools account to get a full list of mobile usability issues across your site using the Mobile Usability Report.
I have tested both tools, and while the Mobile-Friendly Test says my pages pass, the Mobility Usability Report still showed errors. However, those errors started to drop off over time, and the report showed the last test date for each page. Also, some pages may still contain errors in the Usability Report, but still pass the Mobile-Friendly Test. For now, as long as your pages pass the Mobility-Friendly Test, they will not suffer a penalty…for now.
The two most common ways of making a website Mobile-Friendly are:
- Mobile Site: essentially a copy of your website, where the server does the work to deliver an optimized page that’s smaller and easier to navigate. With a mobile site, you must create a different domain (many companies choose to differentiate theirs by “m.domain.com”).
- Responsive Design: the device does the work and automatically adjusts according to a device’s screen size (large or small) and orientation (landscape or portrait). It switches between these options on-the-fly. Responsive design lets you keep your own domain—nothing changes except code on the back-end.
According to Google:
“Responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern.”
So if you and your competitor both have mobile-friendly sites, if your site is a Mobile Site, and their site is a Responsive Design, their site will carry more weight with Google in mobile searches.
I’m currently working with 3D Cart on two websites they host for me. New websites with 3D Cart have the option to install a responsive design template. Existing websites hosted by 3D Cart already have a mobile site built in and can upgrade to responsive for a nominal fee. You only need to activate it and paste in a little bit of code. This is what I have done for my website BJJ Sports. When viewed from a mobile device, the website has a very different look and feel in its mobile version, but 90% of the pages pass the Google Mobile-Friendly Test with very little effort required.
I have also activated the mobile site for my website One Tri, but I am currently working with 3D Cart to convert it to a responsive design. This is where the real work comes in. While they are doing the work to upgrade my templates, I have to convert all my content. This mostly entails converting tables to divs and replacing height and width properties in images with max-height and/or max-width style properties so that these elements can expand and contract to the viewing size of the device. Since the work is being done on a brand new site, I’m also responsible for moving my own custom code and scripts.
(No, I am not being paid 3D Cart, but if anyone from 3D Cart is reading this, I will gladly accept a free month on my current hosting plans.)
If you’re afraid you will not be ready for the change on April 21st, fret not, Google’s algorithm acts in real-time, which means that you can upgrade to a responsive design website after April 21. However, in order to reap the benefits on day one, you should prepare beforehand.