“Make it mobile-friendly” has been the mantra in web development for the last many years, but now Google is making it official. The search engine has announced that as of April 21 (a.k.a. Mobilegeddon), they’ll use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal in their search algorithms. Translation: if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, it will suffer in the search rankings on mobile devices. In fact, one Google engineer said it would have more of an effect on rankings than Panda or Penguin did — and those were two of the most significant algorithm updates Google has ever made.
Before we get into this, however, let’s outline what we know:
- Google has been tinkering with giving mobile friendly websites an advantage in the search results since last fall. You may even have seen a “mobile friendly” tag next to your own site in recent months. (This notation only appears in mobile search results; you won’t see it during a desktop or tablet search.)
- When we say “mobile”, we’re talking about mobile phones. Google is very clear about treating iPads & tablets as separate devices.
- According to everything released, the search ranking impact will only be felt on mobile phone driven traffic. The warning letter that Google is sending out to webmasters even states: “These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.” (emphasis added)
- The amount of smartphone traffic received by each firm varies. Subsequently, the impact of this algorithm change will also vary “firm-to-firm”.
- Having a fully responsive design is not required to be “mobile friendly”. (more discussion below)
Here’s a quick guide to assessing your site’s mobile-friendliness and what to do if it doesn’t meet Google’s mobile-friendly criteria. And don’t worry, it’s actually pretty easy to update your site, especially if you’re on WordPress.
Take the test
Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/ and plunk in your site’s URL. After a quick analysis, you’ll get your results. If your site is mobile-friendly, you’re golden.
Identify your needs
If not, visit the “Getting started” section of Google’s Mobile guide. It’s likely that you just want to learn how to tweak your site yourself; if this is the case, click “Customize your website software for mobile users”. (There are also options for getting technical or working with a developer).
The Customize Your Website Software guide gives a rundown of all the major website software: WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, Blogger, Tumbler, and others. Choose the software you’re using. For this post, we’re going to use the example of WordPress since it’s the most popular (and the CMS choice we recommend to all our clients).
A note: if you’re using wordpress.com (i.e., you have a URL such as mylawblog.wordpress.com), you’re in luck – these sites are automatically mobile-friendly.
Make the required changes
There are different steps to follow depending on what your situation is. They might be:
- Updating your version of WordPress
- Updating your theme to its newest version
- Choosing a different theme that is mobile friendly (look for one with the tag “responsive layout“)
- Implementing an additional plugin to add mobile-friendly functionality to an existing theme
- Doing custom edits to make your theme mobile-friendly
The WordPress section of the Google Webmaster’s Mobile Guide helps you figure out what steps you need to take, and points you to the resources you need.
Some troubleshooting advice
Let’s say your firm has a custom theme. Maybe you laboured over it, or you paid someone to make it for you. Either way, you made an investment and you’d like to keep using it, but it’s not passing the mobile-friendly test. What to do?
In this case, installing a plugin is probably the easiest way to fix the mobile-unfriendly problem. We’re fans of the WPTouch plugin (other Google-approved plugin options are Jetpack and WP Mobile Detector). From the WPTouch description:
WPtouch is a mobile plugin for WordPress that automatically enables a simple and elegant mobile theme for mobile visitors of your WordPress website.
The administration panel allows you to customize many aspects of its appearance, and deliver a fast, user-friendly and stylish version of your site to your mobile visitors, without modifying a single bit of code (or affecting) your regular desktop theme.
The theme also includes the ability for visitors to switch between the theme on your mobile WordPress website and your website’s regular theme.
Once you’ve installed WPTouch, you’ll see it appear as its own item in the left-hand menu in WordPress. Go into Core Settings and confirm the default settings. At the bottom of the screen, you can click “Preview theme” to see what your site will look like on a mobile device. Click “Save Changes” and voila – your site is mobile-friendly.
After you’ve made your changes, run your URL through the Mobile-Friendly Test again, just to confirm Google registers your improvements.
And now you’re set for Mobilegeddon!