Google is sending notifications to webmasters with websites that are not deemed mobile-friendly with the header ‘Fix mobile usability issues found on [your site name]’. The notifications, sent by email and Google Webmaster Tools, tell the webmaster:
“Google systems have tested XX pages from your site and found that 100% of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors on these XX pages severely affect how mobile users are able to experience your website. These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.”
What does this ‘Fix Mobile Usability Issues’ mean?
It means, though your website probably looks great on a computer, it hasn’t been designed to show nicely on a mobile or tablet. And now Google wants to stop displaying sites that don’t display well on tablets and mobiles in search results on those devices.
“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.” (Feb 26th 2015, Official Google Webmaster Central Blog)
This means websites without a mobile stylesheet or mobile friendly version will not necessarily be displayed in search results to users on mobiles. Your site will start to see decreased visibility in mobile search results as Google starts to return more mobile friendly sites in search engine results in the place of yours. And this is a problem with an average of 40% of web traffic coming from mobile devices.
How to ‘Fix Mobile Usability Issues’
Owners of non-mobile-friendly websites must convert their site to be responsive. That usually means adding an additional ‘stylesheet’ to move the design and layout to fit a mobile or tablet-sized screen. For example, if your site has three columns in one row of content across the page, a mobile stylesheet might show that content as being three rows in one column instead. If you have a navigation menu across the top of the page, you might make this a clickable menu icon instead. Resize this website to see how it changes for an example.
If you’re using WordPress or another CMS with a theme, check to see if there’s a newer, mobile friendly version available. Or, if you’re using a bespoke theme, for many sites this is a relatively straightforward exercise for a CSS-savy web designer. It involves redesigning the layout of the existing site and coding a new stylesheet that modifies the outputted design according to a user’s screen size.
For some website owners, though, it might be worth considering the site’s layout and content as a whole – some older web designs don’t translate well to mobile and it may be faster, more cost-effective and give a better result to start again with a new website.
Why you need to ‘Fix Mobile Usability Issues’
Firstly, this update is a big deal. Google rarely gives its webmasters such information about its planned algorithms. If you do not update your website to be responsive, your search rankings will suffer. Secondly, more and more people are using mobiles and tablets to get online and buy online. Your website will no longer be seen by these potential customers, meaning you might lose business.