Google announced today that they will be increasing the amount of weight they give to page mobile-friendliness when returning search results to people using mobile devices. They and other search engines have been favoring mobile-formatted pages for mobile devices for some time now, but this announcement can be taken as a reliable indicator that it will be significantly more important in the near future.
Precisely how much more important is impossible to say until it happens; Google doesn't pass out percentages. We might make some educated guesses based on what we know about Google, however. If you have content that offers something no one else can, you might still win the best rankings positions on highly relevant keywords with a mobile-unfriendly site after this change, but on broader searches with lots of good competition, your site may suffer. In the DMO space, this means that pages on particular events or small businesses might be relatively safe, while those on hotels or restaurants or things to do, where you face a host of powerful competitors such as OTA sites and TripAdvisor, might be in more danger.
So what should you do? If you have a responsive site, you're golden already. All Simpleview responsive designs, which include almost all of our launches over the past year, are optimized for use on any screen size, and Google should recognize that. Rest easy and enjoy continued good rankings. In fact, this change will give you a leg up on any competitors who are still lagging.
If you don't have a responsive site but you do have a dedicated mobile site, you at least have a good foundation for success in this new rankings regime. Now would be a good time to do a few things to ensure you're getting the most out of your investment.
- Create as many high-quality pages as you can on your mobile site for important search topics. Since most mobile sites have more limited content rosters than their desktop counterparts, you may have some gaps to fill.
- Make sure that you have one-to-one mobile redirects set up to send mobile users from your desktop site to the exact equivalent URL on the mobile site (do not send all users on any desktop URL to the mobile homepage regardless; trying to reach a blog post on spring break events and landing on a generic home page is one of the most frustrating things a mobile user can experience).
- Talk with your SEM Analyst or Account Manager at Simpleview about setting up canonical mobile URL references on your desktop and mobile sites. These are small snippets of code that tell the search engines which URLs on each site are equivalent to each other, and they help ensure that your sites will be crawled, indexed, and served up in the search results properly.
If you have neither a responsive nor a mobile site, don't panic. You won't lose all of your traffic overnight. But, to be frank, the hour for change is at hand. Smartphones have been in use since at least 2007: eight years, which is something like a third of the whole lifespan of the mainstream web. Mobile device usage is still growing every year and is now over 50% on many DMO sites. You need to have a plan for upgrading your site to responsive design or building a mobile website soon. Even if this change doesn't signal the end of the desktop-only web strategy, something else will, and soon.
I'll close with some mobile-friendliness factors you can evaluate your site on as you decide how to move forward. Sites that perform well in these areas should experience better success than ever once this change takes effect.
- Speed: Google's standard, which is a tough one, is that all content above the fold should render in one second or less on a mobile device.
- Element spacing: Ever tried to tap a tiny header link on a desktop site with your thumb? No fun, right? Well, Google agrees. Make sure your links and buttons are large enough that it's easy for someone on a small screen to touch the one they want the first time.
- Flash: Avoid it. Mobile devices do not support it and will only see a big useless empty box on your page. Converting Flash content to HTML5 can solve this issue.