Business IQ

Why mobile matters: Google's new mobile optimisation rules

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Your business' website could drop down the search rankings from smartphone web searches if you don't heed Google's warnings on mobile-friendly web design.

Small businesses risk becoming invisible to Australians on the move if their mobile marketing strategy ignores Google's changes to mobile search results.

From April 21, 2015, Google is revamping mobile search results, and the idea is to give greater preference to websites optimised for mobile devices. According to Google, it will have a "significant" impact on search results. So businesses: ignore it at your peril.

Hand with watch holding a phone

Why does mobile matter?

Rather than sitting down in front of a computer, the majority of Australians now reach for their smartphone or tablet when researching purchases and shopping online, according to Google's research.

Google already customises your search results depending on the device you're using to ensure that you get the best user experience. In April it's significantly expanding the use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. In other words, how your website appears on a handheld device will determine where you rank in Google search results.

This means if your business website is only designed for desktops, or looks unsightly on smartphones and tablets, then people on the move might not even know you exist. People shopping at home from the couch will also struggle to find you if they reach for the tablet on the coffee table rather than fire up their computer.

What does this mean for your business? It means treating smartphone and tablet users as an afterthought isn’t an option if you want to reach customers online. If your website isn't mobile-friendly and ranking highly in mobile search results, you're letting potential customers slip through your fingers.

How do I know if I’m mobile-friendly?

There's a simple test – pull out your smartphone, open the browser and search for your business name in Google. "Mobile-friendly" appears in grey at the start of the description snippet if Google considers that your website offers a good user experience on a mobile device. If it's missing, there's work to be done, but there are a number of resources available if a professional designer isn’t in the budget.

Google doesn't rate the look of your web design – it’s a simple pass/fail test based on a few key criteria. If you want to know why your website doesn't make the grade, you can use Google's mobile developer tools to analyse your site. A few common issues include:

  • Small text, which makes it hard to read without zooming
  • Using technologies not supported by mobile devices, such as Adobe Flash
  • Not setting how your site scales for mobile devices (using a viewport), forcing users to scroll horizontally
  • Putting links too close together, making them difficult to tap on a touchscreen

It's possible that your website is mobile-friendly but still fails this test because the Google's search bot can't read your site correctly. If this is the case, have a look at the free resources provided by Google that show how you can ensure the Googlebot can see your site like an average user would. Otherwise you'll start to move down the ranks on mobile search results.

What about mobile apps?

If your business has invested in an Android app then you'll also benefit from the changes to Google's mobile search results.

Google's App Indexing program allows the content of installed Android apps to appear amongst search results. With the new changes to Google's mobile search, Android users will see more links to this content, helping them find and make the most of your app, if you have one.

Making the most of mobile 
  1. Run a test. Use Google's mobile developer tools to see if you’re mobile friendly, and make changes based on its feedback
  2. Check your formatting. Make sure your text is readable on multiple mobile devices
  3. Common sense prevails. If you can’t easily navigate your own site, it’s going to be a struggle for everyone else. Look at the main things you want customers to do (like make a booking) and ensure the process is simple and seamless
  4. Keep evolving. Periodically go back and check things on your site to ensure they’re working, and see if there are ways you can make them better for mobile devices

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