March 5, 2015 | Sarah Danks

About a year ago I wrote about responsive web design layouts and that, in this day and age, it’s not just enough that your site “works” across devices; it also needs to convert across devices.

While Google might not care whether or not your website converts visitors, they DO care about giving visitors the best experience possible. And since mobile Internet usage overtook desktop last summer, in Google’s eyes it’s imperative to have a mobile-friendly website…

Google Tells Mobile Searchers which Sites are “Friendly”

…so much so that near the end of 2014 Google added a label in mobile search snippets that tells visitors straight-up whether or not the sites in that search will work on their mobile devices:

mobile friendly search label
What’s interesting is the average, non-web-savvy person might not be aware just what Google considers mobile-friendly to mean. At first, anyway. Take the above search, for example. On a whim I decided to open the middle website — the one without the “mobile-friendly” label:

What’s the big deal here? The website renders just fine on my iPhone, right? So why doesn’t Google think it’s friendly for mobile devices? Well, because look how small the print is. In order to click upon — or even read — the navigation options, I have to first zoom way in.

Well, at least the webmaster on this site didn’t suppress pinch-zoom, as some are wont to do…

…but still. That site is very hard to navigate on a mobile device — especially on a phone where you’ve got even less room to get your fingers on the right spot.

Obviously mobile-friendly doesn’t equate to a site that you can open on your smartphone or tablet.

What’s Mobile-Friendly Even Mean?

What Google means by mobile-friendly is just this: websites that are functional on mobile devices.

I.e., responsive.

We’ve mentioned it before, but responsive design is a way of building websites such that they adapt their layout and functionality based on the specific screen resolution on which they’re being viewed.

Okay, with that in mind, let’s see what the 3rd result in the aforementioned search looks like:

image1 (2)
It’s not the prettiest site, but notice how big and bold everything is — easy to read, easy to find the information, and easy to click on (here I’ve clicked on their navigation element):

image2 (1)
The ease-of-use continues throughout and the content is very accessible (even for those of us with fat fingers!). This site is indeed responsive (read: mobile-friendly).

Alright. Google’s telling mobile searchers which sites showing in the SERPs are built with responsive web design by labeling them “mobile-friendly.” But even if your site isn’t responsive it’s still showing up in the search. So what’s the big deal?

If Your Site isn’t Responsive, it Could be Ousted from SERPs

At the end of February Google made an announcement that will impact pretty much every single website: they’re making responsiveness an important part of their algorithm:

“Starting April 21 (2015), 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 search results.”

That’s right, folks. It’s no longer cool to sit the bench and watch all the responsive websites play. Nope, because now you might not even be allowed on the team.

If Google says they’re changing their algorithm to include mobile-friendly as a ranking factor, then now is the time to get cracking on responsive web design. It’s not as if you haven’t had time to take this into consideration.

They already told us (in bolded text, no less) they prefer responsive web design over using separate URLs or dynamic serving for mobile sites:

“Responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern.”

Yeah, yeah, Google says jump and we all pull out the trampoline…

…but the bottom line is: do you want your website to show in mobile searches or not? If you don’t care about mobile traffic, then I guess you’ve dodged a bullet (for now).

But if you realize mobile searches are only going to keep growing in importance, then it’s time to make your website mobile-friendly.

And might I suggest sooner, rather than later 🙂




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