Published On: Sat, May 9th, 2015

Google Establishes New Standards in Mobile Search Rankings

In its recent mobile search update, Google has subtly announced its new focus on phone and tablet browsing over the traditional desktop Web. The company has developed a different set of standards that directly affect how sites are ranked in its popular search engine when accessed from a mobile device. In order to sustain strong rankings in mobile searches, every web developer will need to consider how “mobile-friendly” their content is going forward.

The recent shift isn’t without precedent, as Google has been gradually pressing developers to use more mobile-friendly practices in their web design. The company’s first move was relatively benign: sites that lacked Flash integration, incompatible with most devices, received a positive label in search results. The label didn’t affect page rankings but encouraged mobile users to avoid these sites.

Public domain image/Pablo Neo

Public domain image/Pablo Neo

In a FAQ released to alleviate confusion regarding its new policies, however, Google’s latest change clearly has a much more tangible effect. The company has declared that the update will strongly favor sites that are streamlined for mobile access, not just by ranking sites without Flash integration higher but also weighing against sites that are designed with only large screens in mind. Simply put, out of two sites with fundamentally identical information, the one that is mobile-friendly is the one that will get ranked higher in searches.

To help web developers adjust, Google has outlined its criteria for mobile-friendliness in three simple terms. In addition to the obvious removal of Flash components, the company will promote sites that are readable without zooming or realigning horizontally. Links need to have enough space between them to be easily selected without the risk of accidental, misread taps. Through Google Developers, individuals are able to test their website design against the search engine’s new standards by inserting their links into Google’s automated Mobile-Friendly Test.

Responsive Web Design

Google’s latest mobile improvements are in step with the standards of responsive web design, a trend that has become more prolific in over the past several years. The general goal of this strategy is to create media that functions well on any kind of device, plus or minus different esthetic differences. Google is mercifully less concerned with the specifics of how designers achieve this end, so long as that end is met. Sites may build separate mobile websites, use CSS @media queries and other responsive website design techniques, or make unique combinations of the two.

It remains that some sites with a high enough level of quality may be able to skirt past Google’s mobile friendly initiative for the time being. The new criteria are only one part of the overall algorithm used by the search engine, and desktop rankings are unaffected by the changes. However, mobile users account for a significant portion of all internet searches, so it stands to reason that most developers will want to adapt sooner than later.

Guest Author: Archie Ward

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