Unless you’re Chuck McGill or you solely serve neo-Luddite technophobes who curmudgeonly resist the coming Singularity, you need to use responsive design or other mobile-adaptation strategies to make your website mobile-friendly.
Late last year, Cisco released its global mobile data traffic forecast, which included the following projections:
- Global smartphone traffic will exceed PC traffic, increasing sevenfold between 2016 and 2021.
- In North America, mobile data traffic alone will be equivalent to 11 times the volume of the entire North American Internet in 2005, and global internet traffic will be equivalent to 127 times the volume of the entire global Internet in 2005.
- Global traffic from wireless and mobile devices will account for more than 63% of total IP traffic, while wired devices accounted for the majority in 2016.
- Global mobile IP traffic will reach a monthly run rate of 41,417 petabytes, up from 5,952 petabytes in 2015. That’s good for a 47% Compound Annual Growth Rate from 2016 to 2021.
Here’s an example of mobile website traffic growth to an actual law firm’s website:
If your website is slow or hard to use on mobile devices, potential clients are likely to leave—and they are unlikely to return. In fact, Google’s John Mueller once noted:
Mobile Website Examples
Let’s look at a few of the winners of this year’s best law-firm website contest. While I’ve posted some screenshots here, I encourage you to try accessing and using these sites on your mobile device to get a sense of what we are talking about.
See how difficult the menus are to read? Try clicking on those menu items. You can also see that the site doesn’t fit on my iPhone’s screen.
From a mobile-friendly perspective, this example is a bit better. I can actually read the text on the page without needing to side-swipe or zoom. However, there’s still no easy way for me to contact the firm at the top of the page.
This site makes it very easy to contact the firm as well as navigate the site on my iPhone.
If the differences among these examples aren’t immediately apparent to you, go ahead and open these sites on your phone. Click around a bit. There should be no pinching or swiping just to find your way around the page.
Mobile Websites & SEO
Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.
Put simply, Google will be taking into account whether your pages are mobile-friendly or not when it ranks your pages in search results. As a result of this announcement, you can expect a plethora of posts, articles, tweets, and warnings of the dire SEO consequences of failing to go mobile. While this update is unlikely to make your pages vanish from search engine results pages entirely, every optimization helps in a competitive landscape.
But ignoring for a moment the mobile-friendliness-as-a-ranking-signal announcement, it’s likely your mobile-unfriendly website has already been negatively impacting your visibility in search. Google takes user metrics into account in ranking pages, too, like how quickly people wind up in Google after visiting your site. When someone performs a search on a phone and lands on a page they cannot use, they head right back to Google to perform another search. This signals to Google that the page didn’t satisfy the user’s query, and Google doesn’t like that.
We track search engine results across a variety of legal search queries, locations, and devices. It’s quite common for us to find sites that aren’t mobile-friendly perform worse in search on mobile devices than they do on desktops. Here is an example of a site’s rankings for the same keyword, in the same location, comparing only devices:
The site is in the #3 position for people using a desktop, but it is only in the #12 position for the same keyword in the same location for people using a smartphone. This doesn’t have anything to do with Google’s latest changes; it has been the case for a long time.
In addition to adding mobile-friendliness to the their ranking soup, Google is also alerting users as to whether a site is mobile-friendly in their results:
This will probably train users to prefer mobile-friendly sites. The result: even more people are going to prefer mobile-friendly sites. They may not even visit non-mobile-friendly sites in the first place. If you’ve been paying attention, you just realized this is likely to improve the visibility of those sites in search results.
How to be Mobile-Friendly
In truth, mere mobile-friendliness isn’t strong enough. You really ought to think mobile-first. Don’t make your visitors have to think about how to use your website. For now, I’m going to focus on the tactical things you can do to make your site mobile-friendly.
There are three major Google-approved methods for mobile-friendly sites.
- Responsive web design: Your website adapts to the device on which it is being displayed.
- Dynamic serving: Your website serves slightly different content depending on the device.
- Separate mobile site: Parallel version of pages on separate URLs (e.g., `website.com` and `m.website.com`).
According to John Mueller, Google doesn’t care which method you choose so long as its algorithm can tell it’s mobile-friendly. There are pros and cons to each method. I tend to prefer responsive web design to the others. However, there are circumstances where the other methods may make more sense. If you want to know all the details, get acquainted with Google’s Webmaster’s Mobile Guide.
It contains a lot of useful tips including:
- How to test whether your pages are mobile-friendly.
- How to use third-party software to make your site mobile-friendly.
- How to make sure you are implementing mobile SEO best practices.
- What questions to ask your website developer to ensure a mobile-friendly outcome.
WordPress & Mobile-Friendliness
If your site is built on WordPress, making your site mobile-friendly should be relatively easy. There are two primary ways to do this:
- Install a mobile-friendly WordPress theme.
- Install a mobile WordPress plugin.
Most of the time, switching to a mobile-friendly WordPress theme is the most effective choice. Mobile-friendly themes usually provide a better mobile experience for users. Further, updating to a mobile-friendly theme is your best bet for avoiding mobile plugin weirdness (i.e. canonical issues, faulty redirects, etc). If you insist on the mobile plugin option, check out WPtouch.
If you are on a budget, though, head over to the WordPress Theme Directory and add the Responsive Layout Feature Filter. On my most recent search, there were over 900 responsive WordPress themes to choose from.
Hopefully, it’s obvious to you that people are using mobile devices to find information about you online. Further, what they see when they find you will play a role in their perception of you. Your website ought to be an asset, not a liability. If your website is slow, doesn’t work on mobile devices, and looks the same today as it did in 2000, it’s time to make a change.
Featured image: “Diverse People Digital Devices Wireless Communication Concept” from Shutterstock.