Page Experience Matters: The Mobile-Friendly Site

It’s no secret that the majority of Google’s search engine users are mobile users. That fact is the driving force behind Google’s focus on making sure websites like yours serve them well. And if you don’t comply? Your search engine rankings might suffer.

That’s why this article (No. 2 in our page experience series) will discuss mobile friendliness as a way to better prepare for Google’s upcoming page experience ranking signal in 2021. (Be sure to see all our other articles in this series at the end of this one.)

What Is a Mobile-Friendly Website?

A mobile-friendly website creates a good experience for people who visit a website from a smartphone or tablet.

There’s a lot that goes into having a mobile-friendly website. Some of the factors include:

  • Using mobile-compatible plugins
  • Ensuring the webpage fits different screen sizes
  • Configuring the size of the text for mobile viewing
  • Making sure that it’s easy for mobile users to click on buttons and links
  • Having fast-loading webpages (Although this is not talked about much in Google’s mobile-friendly guide, it is a “core web vital” that will be part of page experience ranking and is a best practice for mobile anyway.)

Why Does a Mobile-Friendly Website Matter?

A mobile-friendly website also matters to your search engine rankings because Google wants to include websites in its search results that offer a good experience to mobile users.

After all, about 63 percent of visits to Google’s search engine on average in 2019 were from mobile users.

You can confirm how many mobile users are coming to your own site through your Google Analytics account. (Go to: Audience > Mobile > Overview)

Google Analytics Mobile Overview graph.

Recognizing the growing trend in mobile web browsing, in 2016, Google started testing a mobile-first index. In March 2020, Google announced it would be “switching to mobile-first indexing for all websites starting September 2020” but then pushed the full rollout back to end of March 2021.

Mobile-first indexing means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. Historically, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page’s content when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user’s query. Since the majority of users now access Google Search with a mobile device, Googlebot primarily crawls and indexes pages with the smartphone agent going forward.

–Google, “Mobile-first indexing best practices

When Google announced the upcoming page experience ranking update, it affirmed that the existing mobile friendliness signal would be a part of it. This is another confirmation that having a website set up for mobile users is key if you want to compete in Google’s search results.

How Do You Make a Site Mobile Friendly?

You can make a website mobile friendly by following best practices outlined by Google and a seasoned SEO expert. One size does not fit all when it comes to a mobile strategy.

If you’re getting ready to make your site more friendly to mobile users, you have four basic steps:

  1. Test your current site
  2. Learn about mobile-friendly best practices
  3. Implement changes
  4. Watch for common mistakes

1. Test Your Current Site

One of the first things Google recommends is to run pages through its mobile-friendly test. You can also use the mobile usability report in Search Console.

Depending on what stage you’re at in your mobile journey, the next steps will vary. The goal is to address the main issues uncovered in the testing phase.

Google mobile-friendly test results.

2. Learn About Mobile-Friendly Best Practices

Addressing the issues will require learning more about mobile-friendly best practices. You can do so by reviewing Google’s guide here and our guide on mobile SEO and UX optimization as well for more information.

Again, an experienced SEO professional can help you make good choices here.

3. Implement Changes

Of course, implementing mobile-friendly updates is the next step.

Website Configurations

One big decision you may be facing is what type of website configuration you should have to support mobile users.

Google supports three types of mobile website configurations: responsive web design, dynamic serving and separate mobile URLs. (Check out this cheat sheet on mobile design.)

In general, a responsive website is going to be the easiest to create and maintain. A responsive website uses the same URL and HTML code no matter what device the visitor has (versus a separate mobile site). But it serves up the content in a slightly different format depending on the screen size — so it’s friendly for mobile users.

Be sure to check out these seven mobile navigation best practices for more.

Website Content

Remember that a responsive website does not automatically mean a mobile-friendly website. How you serve the content is one thing. But what you actually prioritize in the content is another.

You see, people using mobile phones tend to search differently than those on a desktop. User intent is different, and that means that the information you want to serve may be different.

You can learn more about this concept in my article on understanding Google’s mobile-first index. And read the mobile SEO checklist for ideas on mobile content and more.

Website Speed

Mobile friendliness and fast webpage loading go hand in hand.

Mobile users do not want to wait around for content to load. Google once found that 53% of mobile site visits were abandoned when webpages took more than three seconds to load.

You can test page speed on your key pages through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.

Example of failed mobile-friendly test.

You can also view data in your Google Analytics on site speed (go to: Behavior > Site Speed). And the Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console is going to give data on load times, as well.

Read more about the need for speed in Google’s mobile-first index.

4. Watch for Common Mistakes

One pitfall to avoid is sacrificing necessary content for the sake of speed. Reducing content to improve page speed could impact rankings in a mobile-first world as I’ve written about in the past:

What is currently being served as your mobile site is what Google would consider for indexing and ranking in its mobile-first index. If the mobile version of your site only displays a portion of all available content, then Google will only consider that part in its ranking calculations (and not any additional resources available in the desktop version of a site).

If a site has a responsive design configuration, as Google recommends, everything on both the desktop version and the mobile version should be accounted for by Google, right?

Not exactly. In responsive design, you tell the site not to display blocks of text or certain images in a mobile device.

Traditionally, Google would index the desktop version of your site. Whatever the desktop image was, that’s what Google would index and use to rank. Then, when a person loaded that page on a mobile device, at that point, you could control what was displayed. However, the index was based on the full desktop version of the content. Responsive design just decided what was displayed or not for a mobile or tablet device.

Now Google is moving to a mobile-first index. Whereas the desktop version of the site used to matter most for search engine optimization, now it’s the mobile UX that counts. If the mobile version of your site is not displaying certain content or images, Google will no longer consider them in ranking and indexing.

For example, on your desktop site in your footer, you might have 50 links. But in the mobile version, you don’t want to clutter it up so you only display 10. When Googlebot crawls your page, it’s not going to count 50 links, it’ll only consider the 10.

Because there are so many variables when creating a mobile-friendly site, it’s important to have an expert SEO working with your developers to make important decisions about mobile configuration.

For more details on the coming update, read our entire Page Experience series:

  1. What’s the Page Experience Update?
  2. How to Make a Mobile-Friendly Site
  3. Intrusive Interstitials & Why They’re Bad for SEO
  4. Safe Browsing to Protect Your Website, Visitors & Ranking
  5. HTTPS for Users and Ranking
  6. Core Web Vitals Overview
  7. Core Web Vitals: LCP (Largest Contentful Paint)
  8. Core Web Vitals: FID (First Input Delay)
  9. Core Web Vitals: CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)

If you’d like to talk to us about your SEO concerns, contact us today for a consultation.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay, Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn and other social networks from Bruce's author page.
Comments (4)
Filed under: SEO — Tags: ,

4 Replies to “Page Experience Matters: The Mobile-Friendly Site”

This article is great, very useful information, mobile friendly is very important, really helps my ideas and truly piqued my interest in how to check if my site is mobile friendly .

Website having Responsive Design are treated as User Friendly, can be accessed through all devices.

I tried telling a few clients about the importance of a mobile friendly site but I’m almost never listened to. I’ll be sharing this article

I know that mobile speed load numbers must be fast, but do you have any real numbers (like 1.5 seconds, etc?}

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