Hearing the Call: Creating a Mobile-Friendly Site

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Google’s Webmaster Tools have long provided webmasters with a blueprint for creating effective sites that rank highly in search engine results. When Google adds new tracking features, it’s a sign of something you should be looking for on your website. Mobile access to websites is becoming increasingly common as more people gain access to mobile technology. Google can automatically detect whether you have a mobile version of your website, and the service can be set up to send issue alerts for sites that are mobile-ready. Creating an effective website requires paying attention to various analytics, correcting any website issues, and using an effective marketing dashboard.

Webmaster Tools Testing
The Webmaster Tools interface provided by Google tests several components of your mobile site, including site speed, error pages and mobile optimization. Mobile sites generally can’t run the same applications as a desktop-optimized website. Including flash, small text, improperly sized content and links placed too close together can also cause usability issues. When you log in to your Google Webmaster Tools interface, you’ll see your mobile metrics and a rating for each category. Any notifications issues by Google should be corrected to prevent your site from getting lowered or removed from search engine results. Additionally, Google now has a mobile-friendly search option that lets users filter their search results by websites that work well on their mobile devices. Having a mobile site can give you an edge over competitors that don’t.

Using Google Analytics
Another tool available to webmasters is Google Analytics. This service provides many of the same features of Google Webmaster Tools, but it adds an additional dimension and layer of transparency about how users interact with your site. With the proper tracking code added to your website, you can see where people click most often, how they navigate your site and the countries they originate from. There are also real-time tools to let you see what visitors on your site are doing currently, and metrics that help you track demographics to determine various attributes about your visitors. Often, you can get a good estimate of the age bracket, interests and the type of device used to access your website. Using these tools along with any notifications in Webmaster Tools helps you to refine your site and optimize it for the best results with your visitors.

Mass Notifications
If you’re website isn’t mobile-friendly, it’s likely that Google will send you a message–if you’re signed up with Webmaster Tools. The subject of the email typically contains the words, “fix mobile usability issues found on…” The warning then informs the webmasters that the owner has errors on all of their pages and the pages will be ranked accordingly for mobile users. This is a warning from Google that you need to fix your website, or expect to see your website fall in the rankings. It also indicates that Google is preparing to launch a mobile ranking algorithm. Many have reported that Google has been experimenting with these metrics since the end of 2014.

Testing Tools Launched
In addition to the rankings information, Google has launched additional tools to help webmasters become compliant. Search results are now showing mobile-friendly labels, a mobile testing tool has been made available, and the usability reports in Google all point to the importance of this new component in search engine rankings. Google generally only issues these warnings when they are about to release a dramatic update to their algorithms. It’s also apparent that the metrics haven’t been fully worked out yet, and Google is still playing with the way their spiders crawl mobile versions of websites. Many website owners have reported that their rankings for various mobile metrics change by the week. One week, all of the mobile indicators in Webmaster Tools are solid green, the next week the metrics show some usability issues.

Importance on mobile is continually increasing both in the form of developers building new apps and consumer preferences shifting. The bottom line for webmasters is that it’s important to begin working on a mobile version of their websites now, before Google penalizes sites that don’t have a mobile version. In 2013, there was a broken mobile site penalty unleashed by Google. The new information seems to point to something beyond this since Google is not targeting issues with mobile sites, but rather it’s targeting sites that have no mobile component altogether. For some website owners, this may mean some small tweaks here and there to make the site load appropriately on a mobile platform. Other websites may need to create two versions of their sites, so that they can keep up with the new updates Google plans on releasing to their search engine algorithm. If you’re using a site like Joomla or WordPress, simply installing a mobile-friendly content theme should take care of the issue. Otherwise, website owners should follow the information available at Google’s Developer site to build mobile-friendly websites.
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