Guest Blogger: Google and the Mobile Experience

Published on: January 29, 2015

Will Googlebot — the search engine’s ranking algorithm — start prioritizing sites that provide a positive user experience? The short answer is yes. In fact the process is already underway!

Although Google have been penalizing sites that generate errors since July 2013, they only began adding their mobile-friendly label to users’ mobile search results back in November. More are coming, but for now they’ve listed just four criteria a mobile site needs to meet in order to qualify:

  • Avoid software that won’t play on most mobile devices.
  • Don’t force your readers to zoom in to read content. (Partly because…)
  • Horizontal scrolling is a huge no-no!
  • Don’t place links too close together. They must be easily clickable.

That seems fair, doesn’t it? If most internet users are anything like me — and research suggests that they are — they grimace at the thought of encountering the problems this approach seeks to remedy! We hate media files not running. We hate having to scroll all over the place and clicking on the wrong links because we don’t have fingertips like pencil-nibs. Simply put, we hate the sites we use on the go failing to run as smoothly as we’ve come to expect them to from work or home.

If your company isn’t already on board then it needs to be. The majority of Americans own a mobile device and most of them use theirs to go online. In fact, last year mobile devices became the dominant means of accessing the internet, overtaking personal computers for the first time, and mobile users are more likely to take action upon browsing than those at their desks. This trend is, perhaps unsurprisingly, expected to continue.

Google’s own research suggests that 61% of mobile users won’t return to a site that isn’t mobile-friendly. Google is right to be concerned. If their algorithm connects people to pages that are insufferable to navigate then that’s absorbed into the Google user-experience too. Users may be persuaded to switch to competing search engines and the company’s marketing revenue declines as a result.

Googlebot ranks pages based on what the user sees, not the lattice of code beneath it. Unlike other search engines that analyze pre-rendered pages, Google’s algorithm instead appears to run the complete JavaScript in order to index the final, rendered site. It sniffs out potentially frustrating user experiences like drugs in another dog’s tush, then punishes them.

The penalty for being unprepared is the erosion of your market outreach, and the push is only going in one direction. When optimizing your company’s site, it’s no use focussing solely on the industry developments that have already happened, but all those on the horizon too.

Much of this is speculation, of course, but Google has a habit of acting upon their hints, slowly tweaking their algorithm to benefit pages that are more secure, load faster, and provide quality content, all following on from ideas previously floated in public. Fortunately, if you don’t have the human resources available to track every typed or uttered word, their Fetch tool allows you to capitalize on changes as they happen.

Despite its importance, mobile accessibility and marketing is still a neglected area of investment for most companies. But progress is accelerating and online trends mature and spread more quickly than ever, no matter how recent and novel they might seem. The mobile revolution is well underway and your company cannot afford to wait and see what happens.

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Nick Rojas is a business consultant and writer who lives in Los Angeles and Chicago. He has consulted small and medium-sized enterprises for over twenty years. He has  contributed articles to Visual.ly, Entrepreneur, and TechCrunch. You can follow him on Twitter @NickARojas, or you can reach him at NickAndrewRojas@gmail.com.

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