mobile responsive website
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21 April 2015 Google will be updating their algorithm again to place more weight on the mobile usability of a website as a ranking factor but try not to panic, unlike some SEO “experts” and novices alike, and don’t rush in to a poorly thought out “solution”.

In Google’s own words:
“…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”

Note the use of the word expanding – if you didn’t know already Google have been recommending the use of responsive websites since 2012 (http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/recommendations-for-building-smartphone.html) and so have already been using mobile usability as a ranking score  for some time. This change seems simply designed to place more emphasis on mobile usability in line with increasing patterns of mobile device use.

Responsive sites are built in such a way that they can determine the size and orientation of a screen and the type of device, then automatically display the website in the most appropriate way for that device so if it’s a phone any phone numbers displayed will be callable via a simple click . More relevantly only the most important parts of any page are  displayed and in a configuration that suits the screen size. This is not the same as a separate mobile website; there is only one version of the code in a responsive site and it can adapt to any size device, unlike specific mobile versions which are built for screens of a certain size.

So the need for a responsive site should have been on everyone’s radar already. Certainly the majority of the websites I work with are responsive already.

But if you don’t already have a responsive website (or don’t know what type it is) what should you do? In a nutshell:

  1. Check your site for any potential mobile usability problems via webmaster tools.
  2. Check the current proportion of your visitors who access your website via mobile reports in Google Analytics – low percentages might suggest few visitors searching via mobile but could also be an indication that your rankings are much lower from mobile devices so also check your mobile rankings.
  3. Check you mobile rankings today and monitor them closely over the coming weeks.
  4. If you haven’t already, make a plan to convert your site to a responsive design, but take the time to get it right and have it well designed rather than rushing it with a knee jerk reaction.

The result of this change will  be that searches performed from a mobile device will rank those sites that will provide a better mobile experience higher, but remember this is only one of 200+ ranking factors so it is not the only factor affecting  your position in the rankings. Nevertheless, it is an important factor and set to become more so.

Don’t assume you know what mobile visitors will want to do on your site – whilst mobile visitors might once have just browsed and researched while out and about, the growth of easy access to good Internet connections in hotspots and free wifi networks, not to mention the increasing habit to surf from the sofa, means visitors are making buying decisions, and buying, from mobile devices in increasing numbers.

Whatever type of business you have and whatever type of website, whether it is just a shop window or a fully fledged e-commerce site, mobile searches are here to stay. Even if you receive no visits via mobile devices now you cannot assume potential customers will not want a mobile friendly site, and soon, because mobile Internet access s already significant and increasing all the time.

Note that in February Google also begin using information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking (for signed-in users who have the app installed).

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