Currently Google is testing a new method of showing mobile and tablet users if site is not mobile friendly. They launched this new icon which is a a Google green mobile friendly icon. Google are suggesting mobile UX may become a ranking factor in the future. Baidu had an Ice Bucket update targeting websites with a poor mobile experience. Why are search engines so active in optimizing their mobile search experience at the moment?
Mobile usage has grown 67%
The overall growth of mobile internet usage has grown by 67% during the last 12 months according to StatCounter:
Global mobile usage has increased from 22% to 36% and the biggest rise is in countries where most people have been using desktop as their primary way of connecting to the internet. In Asia and Africa the usage of mobile and tablets is more common due to the absence of desktops, resulting in almost 40% of the pageviews coming from mobile and tablet devices. This will only increase over the next few years, hence the number of updates search engines are releasing.
Google’s war on poor mobile experience
Many Google mobile updates are being released on a weekly basis, but the past 6 months they have accelerated the number of impactful updates. The remarkable thing in their messaging is they use the concept “modern websites for modern devices”. In June they enabled a warning in the meta description of websites that redirect mobile users to their mobile users, even if users click on a link to a specific landing page. Google wants to lower frustration levels of their users, so now they make it clear that there may be a redirect in place once a user clicks the link. Users also have the option to use the “Try anyway” link as the image below illustrates.
Towards the end of June, Google started to add deep links to Android Apps in the search results. This makes it more easy for users to engage with apps if they have already installed it. If people that are already using the IMDB app, search for a movie title, Google shows a direct link to that movie within the IMDB app.
Since July this year, Google shows a warning in the meta description of websites that use Flash as their main interface. Apple’s IOS-based devices can’t read Flash so users will end up on an empty page. From an SEO perspective, this is an excellent argument to convince web developers to finally step up their game and start developing HTML5, user and search engine friendly websites.
Baidu’s Ice Bucket update
Not only is Google focusing on giving their mobile users a better experience, but Baidu is as well. At the end of August, the Chinese main search engine, Baidu, launched an official algorithm update. The Ice Bucket update focused on the mobile friendliness of a website. This update targets websites that:
- are using popup advertising, questionnaires or e-mail subscription forms
- require users to login before the content is available
- are forcing the user to download an app
- have too many advertisements on their pages
Next to that, Baidu offers an on-the-fly solution to built a mobile version based on your current website with their Appbuilder. After a webmaster has verified their website in Baidu Webmaster Tools, they can build a site app within minutes. After finishing the app, they can add the URL to Webmaster Tools and Baidu will use the mobile friendly pages in their mobile search results.
Yandex’s view on mobile search
The most used search engine is Russia, Yandex, has different challenges. Most Russians have Android devices and the default search engine on these phones is Google not Yandex. Early this year they launched Yandex.Kit, firmware which adds Yandex focused features to mobile devices. The Russian version has 15 apps, of which Search, Yandex.Store and Yandex.Maps are the most important traffic generators for the Russian search giant.
Responsive design is the way to go in Yandex. If sites are not using responsive design, Yandex wants websites to add a specific <!DOCTYPE> tag that tells which version is for desktop and which version of the website is specifically designed for mobile devices. These tags will be visible in Yandex.Webmaster and will prevent mobile pages appear in the desktop Yandex search results and vice versa.
Is your website mobile & tablet friendly?
With a current average of more than 36% of the pageviews made by mobile users and Google expecting the majority of searches will be carried out with mobile devices, you can’t go without a mobile friendly website. To be sure your website is completely built the way leading search engines and their mobile crawlers would like to see it nowadays, use the following checklist:
- Build a website version for mobile and tablet users. Still to many websites have not invested in a proper mobile friendly website. Just take a look at the conversion ratios for mobile users on your desktop website and calculate the revenue you are not making. The best solution is to develop a responsive template. Google has published an excellent guide: Make It Responsive
- If you already have a website for mobile users, make sure you start with a proper audit of the current situation. Aleyda Solis wrote an extensive audit checklist: Identifying and Maximizing your Website Mobile Potential The number one rule of dealing with search engines: Keep It Stupid Simple.
- Check for faulty redirects. Within Webmaster Tools in the Smartphone Crawl Errors section, Google shares if their crawlers detected any faulty redirects. If there are errors found, make sure the server redirects to the equivalent URL on your mobile website. If there is no mobile website, keep the users on the desktop website. The best solution is having a responsive web design.
- App Indexing. If you are using an app next to your website, make sure Google is able to index it properly so it can show deeplinks to App URIs. More information about the specific technical requirements can be found in the Google Developer If Google is detecting errors in the web page-app page pairs, it will show up in the URL Errors report in Webmaster Tools.
- Frequently check if Google can fetch your mobile website. Within WMT go to Crawl -> Fetch as Google and select the mobile crawlers to test if Google can process your website correctly. Baidu and Yandex have similar options within their Webmaster Tools interfaces.
- Regularly check the crawling errors section in Webmaster Tools for Feature Phone and Smartphone. Especially now Google is testing a lot of new warnings to optimize mobile user experience, you don’t want to risk having a non-mobile-friendly icon next to your URL in mobile search.
Since the updates are following quick upon each other, make sure you follow the Webmaster Central Blog, the official news channel by Google’s developers