Lauren Kaye

The search shift from mostly desktop to mainly mobile is underway. Now, Google is adding fuel to the fire – and putting additional pressure on marketers – with two algorithm updates that mean significant SEO changes for mobile:

1. A mobile-friendly ranking signal

2. Easier access to mobile apps in search results

The search engine made an official announcement in the Webmaster Central blog last week, explaining these updates will give users more high-quality results.

Mobile friendly or bust

If your website isn’t optimized for all platforms, you should make it priority for the first half of 2015. Google is giving webmasters a grace period that lasts through April 21, 2015 to update their pages and make them viewable on smartphones and tablets. If your content isn’t mobile friendly, Google will be less likely to show it to people searching for information on mobile devices.

only about 18 percent of sites actually use responsive design

This could be a problem for the majority of marketers. Earlier this year, a Google poll found 82 percent say they have a mobile-friendly site, but a separate study concluded this isn’t necessarily the case and only about 18 percent of sites actually use responsive design. This means the remaining 80 percent will need to develop solutions to ensure their sites provide experiences their visitors expect or they risk dropping off of page one into search obscurity.

What makes a website mobile-friendly?

  • Text that’s easy to read without zooming (large font)
  • Links that are easy to see and click (not too close together)
  • Content that fits within the screen (doesn’t require a lot of scrolling or zooming to see what’s on the page)
  • Fast load times
  • A template that’s designed for mobile viewing

Curious about what content appeals to mobile readers? This video has some pointers: Tips to optimize your content for mobile readers

There’s an app for that … in search results

The other update, which impacts mobile applications, is rolling out immediately. Google will now look at mobile applications as a ranking signal if a site submits its app for indexing, and uses deep linking to content within the platform. In theory, a user who has downloaded your mobile app will be more likely to see your brand content in results pages, and can click links that take them directly to the answers they want.

This could benefit sites if they already have popular applications, but it introduces new competition for everyone else vying for viewers’ attention online. You might have been ranking well before in mobile AND desktop devices, but these new ranking factors could give priority to pages that provide an even better mobile experience.

The moral of the story: No company can afford to take its search visibility for granted. If there’s an SEO arms race, it’s not about acquiring the most links or using the most keywords anymore. It’s over who can provide users will the most valuable information in the best way.

Here’s what our UX designer looks for in a site: Get more from your website with better UX (& a good WP theme)