If you haven’t already started, it’s time to prepare: if your website isn’t mobile friendly by 21st April, you can expect to be clobbered, even if the content of your articles or video production is top quality and you haven’t used any manipulative backlinking methods. Google’s new mobile friendly algorithm kicks in on that date.
First came Google’s Panda in 2011, which declared war on poor quality content, then came Penguin the following year which hammered dodgy linking techniques (essentially, the dubious trade of buying worthless links for bad quality content just to get higher rankings). The next step for the search colossus is mobile friendliness. But how will it be assessed?
Google’s web crawlers will, from 21st April, use the following criteria to categorise a site as mobile friendly. Your site will be rewarded in search results if it:
- Uses text that can be read without zooming in.
- Doesn’t use software like Flash that isn’t common on mobile devices.
- Keeps links adequately spaced from one another so they can be tapped without error.
- Sizes content to screen, sparing users the necessity of zooming or scrolling horizontally.
Suddenly, responsive web design has shifted from nice-to-have to an absolute necessity. Google has been open about the fact that it’s been testing mobile-friendly tools and notifications in recent months, but didn’t formally say that mobile-friendliness would be a ranking factor. But, as Angie Pascale of the digital agency Indaba Group, explains:
“On April 21, it will be. At that time, if your site doesn’t pass Google’s mobile-friendliness test, it may lose visibility on mobile search results. This is bad news on its own, certainly, but because Google doesn’t have separate mobile and desktop indexes, there’s the possibility that sites will also be penalized in desktop results. Google has indicated that they will be creating separate indexes in the future, but that’s not currently the case.”
Previous algorithm changes like Panda and Penguin tended to hit large companies the hardest. The new one is likely to hit smaller online retailers and publications who haven’t yet made the mobile channel a priority. Google will be determining mobile friendliness on a page-by-page basis, making it imperative that the whole site passes, not just a few prominent pages.