For those who haven’t heard yet, it’s official: Google prefers mobile-friendly sites. As of April 21st, Google search algorithm will change so that searches done on mobile devices will show only mobile-friendly sites at the top of the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). This is a big change and makes it more important than ever to have a site that caters to mobile devices.
Why Is Google Making This Change?
The reality is that just over 50% of website visitors are now using mobile devices. Google’s thinking is that if you’re doing a search on a mobile device, you’d prefer to visit sites that are mobile-friendly.
Given that assumption, search results will favor mobile-friendly sites over non-mobile-friendly sites. Sites that are not mobile-friendly according to Google’s criteria won’t show up anywhere near the top of the search results, essentially making them invisible to searchers on mobile devices.
So What Does Mobile-Friendly Mean?
If you have visited a site on your phone or tablet that is not responsive or designed specifically for mobile devices, you may have experienced difficulty reading the type because it got too small, or having to scroll around to see the whole page, zooming to make type and images larger, and other annoying work-arounds. Trying to fit a full size website into a phone’s relatively small screen size takes on a number of challenges for website visitors.
A mobile-friendly site does one of two things: redirects the visitor to a site specifically designed to be displayed on mobile devices, or rearranges itself to fit the screen of the mobile device on which it’s being viewed. The idea, of course, is to present the information in a way that makes it easy to read and/or interact with on tablets or phones. In other words, making the user experience as pleasant as possible.
How Can I Tell If My Site Is Mobile-Friendly?
Visit the link below, enter your site’s URL and click the Analyze button:
Google’s Webmaster Tools will show you how many pages of your site fail the Mobile-Friendly Test and give you guidelines to fix the problems.
How Do I Make My Site Mobile-Friendly?
If your site is not already mobile-friendly, you have several options. Since we’re talking about WordPress here, I will talk primarily about the options for WP, but any site can be made mobile-friendly by following Google’s guidelines.
- Fix your existing theme &emdash; if you’re handy with code you can modify your existing theme to make it responsive. Responsive means that the theme rearranges the content to fit the size of the screen on which it’s being viewed. Most sites are laid out in a grid format, i.e. rows and columns. A typical site might have two columns: content and a sidebar. As the screen gets smaller, the sidebar will often slide down under the main content column so instead of being next to the content it follows after it as the visitor scrolls down.
- Change themes &emdash; if you’re not familiar with code, switching to a theme that is built to be responsive may be your best choice. This works well if your site content is straightforward and the new theme layout is very close to your existing one.
- Use a plugin &emdash; there are a number of plugins, both free and paid, which try to turn any WordPress site into a mobile-friendly site. As you might imagine, some work better than others. None of them do as good a job as a properly designed responsive theme, but they may be good enough to get by with until you can do a real makeover.
- Use a third-party service &emdash; there are several third-party services with which you may contract to host a mobile-only site. Some code is added to your site which detects that a mobile device is accessing the site and redirects the visitor to the third party’s site. You have the ability to “build” a mobile-only site using the tools provided by the third party and your own content. Some of my clients have been using such services for a couple of years now.
Which Solution Should I Choose?
Each of the above solutions has its positives and negatives. Modifying your own theme is the least expensive unless you count the time involved (which you should).
Buying a new theme can either be a one-time expense or an ongoing yearly fee depending on where you buy it and whether you need ongoing updates and support. There are free themes available, as well, so that’s an option. Any new theme will require some work to get it looking the way you want with your existing content.
Third party services typically charge an ongoing fee, so while they may be easier to begin with, there is an ongoing monetary cost.
Plugins can be free or paid and if paid can either be a one-time or ongoing cost. Obviously, it pays to shop around.
Ultimately, you’ll want to consider whether a short term solution makes sense if the cost for a long term solution is a bit steep. Only you can make that decision.
Given that the change is coming sooner rather than later, a stopgap solution may make sense while you evaluate the various options going forward.
Image credit Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.com