Google favours mobile-friendly sites in search rankings

Trust. Not the first word that comes to mind for many people when Google are mentioned in conversation.

But that’s the word that came into my head last week when Google announced they were expanding their “use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal” in mobile search results.

In the world of design and UX, a focus on and consideration for mobile is nothing new - it should be a given by now for any designer or agency worth their salt.

But from a search marketing perspective? This is BIG news. How big? Well, Google have dropped a pretty clear hint in their Webmaster Central Blog, stating that the change “will have a significant impact in our search results”. That’s pretty big news from where we’re sitting.

Let’s go back a step.

You’re looking for a UK digital agency to design your new website. You stick “greatest digital design agency ever” into Google. Google’s search algorithm factors in more than 200 “clues” - context, quality of the landing page, even spelling mistakes - when deciding what to show the user in search engine results pages (SERPs). We don’t know exactly what goes into the algorithmic soup that makes up Google’s Ranking Factor Recipe (only I call it that), but we do have a pretty good idea.

We know about good old on-page optimisation - what I like to refer to as Brilliant Basics. Craft your title tag and meta descriptions, get those <h1> tags looking good, all the usual approaches. We know about the importance of not having broken links or duplicate pages scattered throughout your website. And we know we have to get those keywords into all the right places to send out the right signals when flirting with Google - remember, don’t be too keen.

But increasingly, we’re seeing a shift away from this old-school SEO approach towards something more refined. We’re moving towards a system based on authority and (crucially) trust. Optimising your site for mobile sends another signal to Google that hey, here’s a site that cares about the user. These guys have stopped to think how their site is being used. These guys can be trusted because they’ve taken the time to craft a site with the user’s experience in mind. You’re showing them a bit more leg, and in return, you get a big tick and a potential boost in their mobile SERPs.

So what can you do? Firstly, use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test to assess whether your site passes muster. Next, get reading: Google’s Webmaster’s Mobile Guide outlines all you need to know to give your site a fighting chance.

Mobile Friendly Banner

Mobile friendly notification

While we have a good idea of the ingredients that go into Google’s ranking algorithm, we don’t know quantities. It might only be a pinch of mobile that gets thrown into the mix for seasoning. And mobile-optimising a site that contains a myriad of 404 not found errors and misleading content won’t lead to search engine success. But based on Google’s statement and their use of the word “significant”, I’d expect it to be more than a heaped tablespoon of mobile friendliness that goes into deciding whether your site appears at the top of mobile results pages.

Avoid mobile optimisation at your peril.

Phil Mcminn

Phil McMinnHead of Search & Analytics