Eighty percent of local searches for products or services are now done on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). Forty six percent of all searches (including non-local) are now done on mobile devices. If you as a business owner do not have a website that is optimized for display on mobile devices this is a huge incentive to become mobile friendly.
Look at it from the perspective user. If you are looking for something on the web using your phone or tablet the search engine gives you multiple choices when you enter a query looking for a product or service. Those choices, especially for local businesses are ranked in search results using many different factors but one of the big ones is whether or not the site is mobile friendly.
After all, it is flat out frustrating to try to navigate through a website on your phone that is designed to be viewed on a PC or laptop. Either nothing lines up right or navigating through the site is hampered by tiny menu links or buttons and the size of the screen and your fingers. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to tell whether or not a site was mobile friendly before you even clicked on the link to go to the site?
Well, now there is. In the case of Google Search they have decided to let users know whether or not a website is mobile friendly by including a notification to that effect right in mobile search results (see image). This development seems to have arrived somewhat under the radar of many of the SEO pundits who make a living writing about new developments on the web that can affect the performance of a website. Maybe that is because they spend their lives in tiny, dark rooms in front of $6,000 Alienware PCs playing WOW, I dunno.
At any rate there is not much being written about this development at the moment. That may be because of the Penguin 3.0 update to the Google Search algorithm which rolled out last week and has been in the spotlight. That does not make this development any less important though. In fact, for business owners who have been trying to do things according to Google best practices, the mobile friendly designation in search results may be more important than the Penguin update.
The mobile friendly designation does not seem to be having any effect on SERP (Search Engine Results Page) position. Maybe that is why the SEO wonks are largely ignoring it. However I believe it will have a profound effect on something less tangible which is the perception of potential customers.
Think about it. As a business you know that appearances mean a lot. If you have two restaurants on the same block serving essentially the same kind of food and one is run down and greasy looking with a sign in the window proudly proclaiming “the cockroaches are dead!” and the other is spotless inside and out with a friendly staff which restaurant do you think will get the most business? Which one would you go to?
The same is true on the web. The better you are at meeting the expectations and needs of visitors to your site the better you will do. If you have a site that is hard to navigate with little information for comparison shoppers and poor quality images of your product you will probably not do that well.
But what if you have a great looking site that has always been popular with visitors and your nearest competitor also has a great website. What will differentiate between the two of you in search results enough to make searchers choose to visit your site over your competitor’s site? The mobile friendly designation from Google Search may be that crucial factor.
In the second image on this page you see a screen shot of a search I did for dentists in Selinsgrove Pa. Of the three results displayed on the screen only one of them has the mobile friendly designation. As a user who was searching for a dentist on your mobile phone, which one would be your first choice to look at based solely on these search results?
Maybe to some extent your decision would be influenced by the description or title of the results. In this case those are all pretty similar. The only thing that sets one apart from the other two is Google’s note that the website of Dental Care Associates is mobile friendly. For the average consumer (which I am) the choice of which site to go to will very likely be influenced by that designation and that fact should be all a business owner needs to hear in order to get moving on making sure that their site is mobile friendly in Google’s eyes.
If your site does not have the mobile friendly designation in Google search results on a smartphone does that mean that it does not display well on one? Not necessarily. There are a lot of sites that are responsive to some extent when viewed on a smartphone that do not have the mobile friendly designation. In fact, one of my client’s sites has this problem.
Theirs’ is a unique situation though as they had spent a lot of money getting a brand new website built by someone. I was hired to build them into a national competitor in search in their industry. The new site they had did not have a blog so I installed a WordPress blog in a subdirectory rather than use the blogging function of their main Joomla based site for their content strategy. As a result their main Joomla site does not have a mobile friendly designation in search while their WordPress based blog on the site does have the designation.
That may be another reason why the SEO experts aren’t paying much attention to the mobile friendly designation. They see that some sites actually are, for all intents and purposes, optimized for mobile phones, and so they have a decent user experience but just don’t have the mobile friendly designation for whatever reason. In that case what is the harm, right? User experience on mobile phones is ok and the site does well in search and having the mobile friendly designation doesn’t hurt that so no biggie. Right, to everyone except the end user who is searching for something on their smartphone.
What does it take to make a site worthy of the Google mobile friendly designation? Unlike many aspects of SEO there is not a whole lot of guesswork involved in fulfilling the requirements for that designation. Google provides resources on what is required in a mobile friendly site on this page.
One thing to note is that Google considers tablet computers and smartphones to be two different things even though both are technically mobile devices. The logic is that tablet screens are much bigger as a rule and so tablet users expect to see the desktop version of a site.
If you are not inclined to do web design and your site does not have the mobile friendly designation in smartphone searches you might want to talk to your web designer or another trusted digital advisor about doing what is necessary to make your website smartphone friendly. After all, every competitive advantage you can get as a business matters. This is equally true on and off the web but is perhaps more obvious on the web and a having a mobile friendly website that Google Search recognizes as such is one such advantage and potentially an important one.