You may have heard about Google launching its new mobile-friendly algorithm on 21 April to boost the ranking of pages that work well on mobile devices. By ‘mobile’ Google is talking about smart phones, such as devices running Android, iPhone, or Windows Phone. This latest of their regular updates was announced in February, and they had started introducing a ‘mobile-friendly’ label to search results on mobile devices back in November 2014. Google’s aim is for users to ‘find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.’
Should we be worried?
The February announcement prompted many search engine optimisation companies to strongly urge people to make their sites mobile friendly before the 21 April ‘deadline’, or risk seeing their pages plummet down the search rankings. Some even christened it ‘Mobilegeddon’. Whilst it would be reckless to ignore the impact of mobile use on the web, not only was it somewhat unrealistic to expect websites all over the world to be made completely mobile-friendly within a couple of months, this has turned out to be a bit of an overreaction. According to Google’s FAQ on the mobile-friendly algorithm,
- mobile-friendliness gives individual pages – not whole sites – a ranking boost in searches carried out on mobile devices across all languages and locations;
- not being mobile-friendly doesn’t penalise your pages’ ranking in searches carried out on desktop, laptop or tablets;
- good content still gets well-ranked even on mobile searches: ‘The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal — so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query.’
Google’s algorithm uses over 200 unique ‘signals’ – factors in web pages that determine how it ranks search results for any query, including keyword placement, the freshness of the content, and the quality of links to and from a page.
We’re not scared!
So whilst this mobile-friendly change is significant, and we need our pages to work for mobile users, there’s really no need to panic just yet. We, like Google, want to ensure pages are mobile-friendly, because mobile traffic to the site has been increasing year-on-year, although it hasn’t yet overtaken desktop. But a knee-jerk reaction to satisfy the introduction of the new search algorithm won’t necessarily help with that. There are no quick fixes for making sites usable on mobile devices.
We already have a long-term strategy to make sure our web pages are viewable, usable and findable on all devices, including smart phones, tablets, and desktop screens, by moving to responsive design, which means our content adapts to the wide variety of available screen sizes.
But making our content easy to access on all devices is more than just a technical issue. You can’t just drop existing content into a responsive design and have it magically work well for mobile. The content itself needs to be doing the right job for both our site visitors and the University, so it needs reviewing and reorganising to ensure good usability for pages that rearrange themselves in different screen sizes in responsive web design.
Making our sites responsive
The Web Team have been working on responsive design for a couple of years now, and we have already optimised a number of our sites for mobile.
- The redesigned UG Study site launched in 2014
- Grand Challenges
- The PG Study site which went live in February 2015
- The REF 2014 site from last December
- The new Accommodation site launched at the beginning of April 2015
- The brand new Living Systems site launched last week
Pages from these redesigned sites are now labelled ‘Mobile-friendly’ in Google search results on smartphones, and as we create more responsive sites – and others are currently in production -the Google crawler will pick up on mobile-friendliness as soon as it recrawls them. We’ll be monitoring our redesigned sites to see that they perform well generally, and we can test new pages with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
We are planning a phased roll-out of responsive redesigns across the University site, and of course we want to achieve this as effectively and efficiently as we can within a reasonable time frame, whilst also ensuring our pages deliver a good quality experience for our site visitors, no matter what devices they are using.
Web Editorial and Marketing Officer