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I noticed something new when doing a Google search on my mobile phone tonight… several of the results had the words “Mobile-friendly” in front of them.

A quick search revealed why, in this Google announcement from just yesterday:

Helping users find mobile-friendly pages

Starting today, to make it easier for people to find the information that they’re looking for, we’re adding a “mobile-friendly” label to our mobile search results.

Example of a search result with the words

What is mobile-friendly?

Google defines mobile-friendly as:

  • Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
  • Uses text that is readable without zooming
  • Sizes content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
  • Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped

The Flash point is an interesting one – that’s a fight that Apple picked with Adobe back in 2010, and this announcement from Google is another nail in the coffin of the popular but outdated technology.

The other points are certainly all very valid, and are consistent with the kinds of issues I’m facing right now as I conduct user testing of a number of UK council websites as part of Socitm’s annual Better connected survey. More on that when we publish the report in May 2015.

Mobile First is so much more

Although Google’s announcement is great to see, and will hopefully help us to make the case for the growing importance of supporting mobile users, it’s not the whole story. Providing a “mobile-friendly” experience doesn’t stop with Google’s short checklist. A true “mobile-first” approach to designing an online experience means keeping things short and snappy, helping users to complete their desired tasks quickly and easily, and designing the whole journey to be sympathetic to the physical limitations of small, touchscreen devices (for example, minimising the amount of data entry required in web forms). Most of these points can not be picked up by Google’s automated Mobile-Friendly Testing tool.

What this means for SEO

The “mobile-friendly” label is pretty big news, but it remains to be seen how users will react to this information, and whether it will impact their choices about which sites to visit on their mobiles. A much bigger change could be just around the corner, though – a potentially epic shift mentioned in one single, subtle sentence that comes later on in the announcement:

We are also experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal.

What this means is that possibly before long, if you have a clunky, mobile-unfriendly site, you may find it slipping down the SERPs and into obscurity. That means that if you take SEO seriously, you’ll be wanting to consider stripping out those Flash elements, spacing out those links, and getting yourself a nice responsive layout.

Read more about adopting a Mobile First approach.

Update March 2015Google have since announced that as of April 21 mobile-friendliness will have a “significant impact” on search results.

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