Mobile First Web Design

On 4th November 2016, Google quietly published a new blog post on its Webmaster Central Blog.

The opening sentence of the post is the most important of all:

“Today, most people are searching on Google using a mobile device.”

It goes on to explain that, given that ‘most’ people (we can assume this to mean over 50%) are now Googling using a mobile or tablet device, it has begun to experiment with indexing its page content based on how well a site works on mobile. Google cares about its users, and wants to make sure that when its users search for something they get presented with the best websites possible.

In practice, this means Google needs to take an enormous number of measurements of a website that all feed into its ranking algorithm. Whilst traditionally this was arguably a more content focused decision (i.e. is the website relevant), it now considers user experience more than ever, and this recent news means that mobile user experience in particular plays a role in the ranking decision.

So what does it mean for your website?

It means that more than ever, mobile optimisation is key. Responsive design is more or less a given – very few serious websites are not responsive these days. So if most sites are responsive and on a level playing field in this respect, Google needs to look beyond this and to the finer details. It may look to more heavily consider:

  • Speed – on a mobile device, people may not always have a wifi connection and may instead be reliant on a mobile network. Having a fast loading site is therefore important – code should be lightweight and minified and images compressed.
  • Font sizes – think hard about legibility for users with smaller screens, often browsing whilst on the move.
  • Local SEO – is your site optimised for your local market, given that location based search on Google is becoming more intelligent than ever.
  • Tap target size – Google can detect if tiny links or buttons are hard to tap on a mobile, and so these could start to hold your site back – a mobile first design process would make sure these are optimised.

We can expect this ‘experiment’ from Google to start small for now – but expect it to ramp up heavily as Google becomes more intelligent and more confident they can accurately measure mobile user experience. Having a well optimised and high performance mobile site will be more important than ever.

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