Get ready for the mobile-friendly SEO update

As many of you may be aware, Google has announced on its Webmaster Central Blog that starting from April 21, websites offering below-par mobile optimization can expect a drop in search rankings. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages, in all countries. Google, as ever, do not give a huge amount of detail on what the change entails. Here’s what we definitely know about the approaching update.

Google improves mobile search experience

Google unveiled plans to roll out ranking changes improving mobile search experience back in 2013. The search giant also published advice on the most common mobile optimization errors and some guidelines for developers.

In November 2014, Google rolled out mobile-friendly tags that appeared in mobile search results highlighting websites optimized for smartphones. A mobile-friendly test site was also made available so that developers could test their websites against Google’s requirements.

The latest update takes Google’s search algorithms a step further in enhancing mobile search by promoting websites that are optimized for mobile. There’s not much information on the new update at this point. Here are three most important aspects.

1. The update will affect only mobile search

There’s no mention of desktop search in Google’s announcement, and therefore we assume that websites failing to properly address mobile audiences may still rank high in desktop searches.

2. The algorithm will run real-time

Given that the algorithm will update positions in real-time, pages optimized for mobile after April 21 will improve their ranking positions immediately after becoming mobile-friendly.

3. The algorithm will run on a page-by-page basis

Every page on your website will be individually analysed in terms of mobile optimization. A single faulty page won’t harm the entire website’s ranking.

How to be mobile-friendly

Businesses that so far haven’t put much focus on addressing mobile audience now must rethink their online strategy so that they don’t get punished in the SERPs. The question remains: how do you do it properly?

Google doesn’t favour any single approach to addressing mobile visitors as long as the experience is optimized for smartphones. This means that whether you choose responsive, or adaptive, or a separate mobile site, you must follow Google mobile-friendly requirements including:

  • Allowing Googlebot to crawl the website
  • JavaScript, CSS and image files should be fully accessible to Googlebot so that the bot can see the website like an average user. Using Google’s mobile-friendly test you can check out if the website is available for crawling.

  • Avoiding faulty redirects and irrelevant cross-links
  • A common smartphone optimization mistake is using URLs which don’t open on mobile but instead redirect mobile visitors to default URLs or serve 404 error pages instead of redirecting users to equivalent mobile pages.

    Google also indicates that, if using a separate URL setup, you need to make sure that links to desktop versions of pages point to their correct equivalent pages, and not to a default URL (e.g. main page).

  • Using tap-friendly links and large fonts
  • Google recommends tap-friendly links and large fonts easy to read on smartphone screen.

  • Avoiding desktop-specific content that doesn’t open on mobile devices
  • To be mobile-friendly according to Google you should also avoid software that may not work on mobile devices, like Flash. Webmasters should consider using HTML5 instead.

  • Ensuring the website loads quickly
  • Website speed is also among Google’s guidelines for web developers optimizing their websites for mobile visitors.

So, what are your thoughts on the mobile-friendly SEO update? Let us know in the comments section below.

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