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Mobile Usability warnings reinforce Google’s mobile intentions

If you have Google’s Webmaster Tools setup for you site (and you REALLY should do it!) you may have received an alert email from Google warning “Fix mobile usability issues found on <your site>

mobile-friendlyThis is a further step in Google’s current campaign to improve its support for mobile searchers. Back in Oct 2014 they started telling searchers that some websites are Mobile Friendly by displaying a ‘Mobile friendly’ badge in search results.

Google are progressively assessing websites (page by page) to see if mobile visitors to your site have “a meaningful “after-click” experience that helps (them) use information relevant to their task.

They’ve also got new reports in the wings to compare search performance between desktop and mobile devices.

Its quite clear that mobile compatibility is emerging as another key SEO element.

What are Mobile Usability Issues?

What sorts of things are Google checking to decide if your site is ‘mobile compatible’ ?

Flash Usage
Poor old Flash. Once the internet’s dominant multimedia technology, Flash inadvertently fell into the trap of not being Apple’s friend, leading to incompatibility with the largest selling mobile devices and now as a result, not Google’s friend either ;(
I bet Adobe didn’t anticipate that when they bought Flash from Macromedia.

Viewport issues
The viewport tag tells the browser how to display the page’s dimensions and scaling.  In the contemporary internet, 100’s of different devices with different screen requirements can visit a site, so the viewport tag is very important to ensure the website is displayed sympathetically in that individual device.  Google assesses situations where the viewport isn’t working properly including:

  • Viewport not configured
  • Fixed-width viewport
  • Content not sized to viewport

Small font size
Google defines this as “the font size for the page is too small to be legible and would require mobile visitors…’ to pinch to read the text. A no-brainer really…

Touch elements too close
Yep its frustrating when you try to click a button with your finger but the adjacent one is clicked.
There’s got to be some space between the buttons… 

New WMT Measurement Tools too

Google’s as yet unreleased WebMasters ‘Search Impacts’ reports further reinforce how serious Google are about this. These new reports will breakdown organic performance by device (amongst other factors) which will provide accurate and presumably ‘character building’ moments for those without mobile compatible sites.

Google WebMasters Tools draft 'Search Impacts' reports

Draft Webmasters Tools ‘Search Impacts’ report. Source: Search Engine Land

 So who cares? You should!

Rachel Lindteigen from Search Engine Land suggests the next logical step is that poor mobile compatibility will be damaging to your site’s organic search performance – at least in Google searches anyway. Read Rachel’s article here.

Its a logical deduction given Google has already indicated “mobile usability is now relevant for optimal search results”

Haven’t got an email from Google yet?

Haven’t received an email from Google (yet) ? This might be because:

  • Your website passes Google’s mobile usability tests
    Well done! Go to the top of the class. Standby to be loved by Google for mobile searches
  • You don’t have Google WebMasters Tools setup for your site
    Sorry but you are flying blind. If you cant see it, it cant hurt you… Right? (refer Ostrich Survival Techniques)
  • Maybe Google WebMasters Tools is setup, but not sending notifications to an accessible email address
    Oops. Better get that fixed.

Why are Google doing this?

Don’t underestimate the impact on your business of Google’s enthusiastic pursuit of all things mobile. Google has access to more online usage data than anyone. Even the data we can access clearly shows the Internet’s rapid domination by mobile devices. Google want to be sure they maintain their domination in search by presenting mobile searchers with good quality mobile-compatible websites in their search results.

..and what will happen to the sites that aren’t mobile compatible? They will fall through the rankings to the ‘cutting room floor’ and quietly swept out sight.

But really, why are Google so keen on Mobile?

Yes mobile is a big slice of the internet, but its more than that. Mobile device Apps let people escape the tyranny of search by directly connecting them to their chosen resources. People used to search (in Google) to find that resource. If an increasing slice of internet users don’t need Google, they wont click on their Adwords ads and Google’s revenue stream (and share price) starts falling.

So Google’s investment in Hummingbird -which gives it voice search (ie sematic search) technology makes it easier/more intuitive for mobile users to lock them into search.

Takeaways

So if you know your website is not mobile compatible, now is an excellent time to be considering an upgrade, otherwise you’ll be playing catchup to your competitors when Google moves into the next phase.

– Confirm you/your SEO service provider have access to and monitor Google WebMaster Tools
– Check if you/they received Mobile Usability warnings
– Address any mobile warnings (and others) ASAP
This might range from a few tweaks, through to deploying a responsive website.