Mobile Usability and Algorithm Changes: It’s Google’s World, We’re Just Staying on Top of It

Something’s been popping up in Google Webmaster Tools site messages lately that’s been making dev teams and SEOs everywhere let out a groan:

Google systems have tested [x number of] pages from your site and found that [x%] of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors severely affect how mobile users are able to experience your website. These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.

A few of our clients have been getting this warning since the beginning of the year. Basically what it boils down to is that Google is nicely warning you of algorithm changes on the horizon, and you’d better get in line with their developer guidelines before April 21st. During that week, a new algorithm is scheduled to roll out, and if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, it will be penalized. What does that mean? Essentially, sites with more mobile usability will likely be given more prominence (read: higher SERPs rankings) in searches performed on mobile devices. If you don’t comply, you won’t rank as well.

And if you’ve got a business, you really should want to continue ranking well. Why, you ask? Because over the past year or so, mobile usage has been skyrocketing. Eighty percent of adults have smartphones, and marketers are discovering that mobile searchers are the most ready to open their wallets and make a purchase. The problem, though, is that websites are pretty darn tiny when you look at them on your phone screen. That means you’re forced to pinch, scroll, prod and poke your way through a site (or, if you’re me, you just squint and wave goodbye to all of those dollars you spent on LASIK). This can lead to frustration, impatience, vision loss and insanity on the consumer’s part – or they simply leave your site and find one that they can view on the technology they choose. And that, most importantly, results in loss of sales for you.

Google knows this, and since Google’s goal is (and always has been) to quickly and easily provide the most relevant results to search queries, it knows that mobile frustrations are inconveniencing the user. To help searchers out, a “Mobile-Friendly” label will be displayed next to compliant pages in mobile search results, which gives end users a hint as to which sites will provide a better experience.


But you should still take a deeper dive, because different site pages may fare differently. If you’re a webmaster with a site registered in Google Webmaster Tools, you should have gotten an email alerting you to the issue. Log into GWT and navigate to the Search Traffic dropdown. Look for the “Mobile Usability” option, which will display all of the issues you or your developers will have to fix in order to comply with the new algorithm, along with a list of corresponding pages. If you don’t have GWT, you can run your site through Google’s Mobile-Friendly testing tool.

While this is by no means an extensive list, “fixing” things could mean removing Flash elements, making sure content is sized to the viewport, and making sure the touch elements/clickable items aren’t too close together (because everyone hates fat fingering content, you know). Every site is unique, so every webmaster will see a different list. Even if you have a responsive site, don’t think you’re safe! Unique coding on certain pages of the site have the potential to trigger a mobile usability problem.

Still confused? If your business has a website but you don’t know whether or not mobile usability warnings apply to you, try reaching out to Flying Cork and let us figure it out for you!