Google is on the Move, Favoring Responsive Design

February 9, 2015

Google, which holds an estimated 65% share of online search, is launching an algorithm to favor sites that are "mobile-friendly." Smartphone users may not find many of their favorite sites at the top of the rankings, if they do not have a Responsive Design. Sites that haven't updated could find themselves ranked much lower. The good news is that search results from desktop browsers are unaffected, for now.

It’s no secret that Google is constantly changing their algorithm,and now the search engine will rank mobile-friendly sites higher in search results when people are searching from a mobile device. As a digital publisher, it can be tricky to keep up.

At the end of last year, Google’s focus honed in on improving mobile search results and we began to see “mobile-friendly” tags next to websites in search results that were truly that. Meanwhile, webmasters began receiving warnings if their site was not mobile-responsive. Fast forward to last week, when it came to light that mobile search rankings are changing—and those sites with mobile usage issues are dropping in rank. (This only applies to searches on mobile devices, by the way—but remember that mobile is only growing!)

It wasn’t long ago we reminded readers that there is no point in trying to fool Google. And we’ve talked infinitely about responsive design.  Let’s talk about responsive design specifically in the context of these recent changes from Google.

Luckily, there is a very simple thing you can do to ensure that you receive a mobile-friendly tag and therefore, ensure higher ratings in mobile search: use Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool.

And keep these criteria in mind (courtesy of Matt Southern):

  • Make sure your site text is readable without zooming on a mobile device.
  • Treat visual content like your text and eliminate the need for horizontal scrolling or zooming.
  • Don’t use Flash, or other software that is uncommon on mobile devices.
  • Keep links (as well as tabs, buttons, etc.) spread out enough so that users can easily select and tap the correct one.

But, don’t forget that mobile-friendliness is a state of mind. It’s not just about criteria; you’ve got to think mobile in order to create a stellar experience for your readers. It’s about having community in the palm of your hand. It’s about speeding up while de-cluttering. It’s about readers looking to you first for what they need and want—regardless of how they are viewing your content.