Google and mobile usability

Google announced in February that as of this week mobile-friendliness will be a factor in their search algorithms. In other words, content and sites that are optimized for mobile phones will be given preference in Google’s search result listings. For those of us with responsive sites, this is wonderful news but according to Smashing Magazine, 25% of sites are not responsive. That’s a lot of internet to fix.

A Videophone
The videphone: before Facetime was cool.
(Image by Rama on Wikimedia Commons)

While it may leave some webmasters in the lurch, from a UX perspective this is an awesome move. Usability on mobile phones is fickle at the best of times but there are few things more frustrating than trying to find information on a site that is absolutely not intended to be viewed or used on a small screen.

Google is effectively incentivising website owners to evaluate their content and improve it for mobile users: such is the power of a good Google search ranking!

To help us all out, Google has provided several useful tools to help people make the transition:

  1. The Mobile Friendly Test let’s you type in your site’s URL and hit “Analyze” to see what Googlebot thinks of your web-stuff;
  2. Webmaster Tools & The Mobile Usability Report which gives great feedback on specific usability issues with your site; and
  3. A comprehensive guide to designing mobile-friendly websites.
The Googlebot
That's Mr Googlebot to you.

Earlier this year I received a pretty stern email from Google Webmaster Tools regarding one of the websites I maintain:

Google systems have tested 12 pages from your site and found that 100% of them have critical mobile usability errors.

This prompted me to take action and haul a bunch of appalling MSFrontpage HTML kicking and screaming into into the 21st century (actually I just deleted it all and started over - more on this in another blog post). But a second site I built years ago (before Bootstrap was a thing) now requires some urgent TLC. Off to the CSS drawing board I go!