Google’s mobile-friendly search results and the SEO value of a responsive website

UPDATE: Read the latest on Google’s rollout and how it’s affecting search results.

With mobile devices accounting for 60% of digital media usage, and spending on mobile search advertising approaching the tipping point, it’s no surprise that Google recently announced a number of changes that focus on improving the mobile search experience.

One of those announcements will have a major impact on how businesses are discovered via Google search — and it presents an important opportunity for businesses to get ahead of the competition. Starting on April 21, Google will be making adjustments to the search results that appear for users on mobile devices. Once the changes are fully implemented, websites that Google determines to be mobile-friendly will be given higher display priority. For those businesses with mobile-friendly websites, this change presents an opportunity for increased visibility and site traffic. But for businesses without mobile-friendly sites (including nearly 50% of the Fortune 500s), this means lower search rankings mobile users — which can have a big impact on discoverability, web traffic, and overall sales.

Chicago Bowling Google Search Results

With Google’s new changes, 10pin’s website will be moving down in the rankings for not being mobile-friendly.

What is mobile-friendly?

At the end of last year, Google added the mobile-friendly search label (which you can see in the search image above) in response to the frustrating user experience of performing a mobile search and ending up on a page not optimized for mobile devices. Now Google is taking that label one-step further and giving mobile-friendly websites sites priority in search results.

In order to determine whether a page is mobile-friendly, Google checks to see if it meets certain criteria:

  • 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

For anyone curious whether their site is mobile-friendly or not, Google provides a helpful test to check.

Going responsive

While there are different way to ensure your website meets all of Google’s mobile-friendly requirements, we recommend a solution that uses responsive design (an approach we use for all of our clients). A responsive website is one that adjusts content to best fit the size of the screen or window. By resizing text, scaling images, and altering layouts, a responsive website is optimized for use across all devices, from desktops and laptops to tablets and phones. You can see an example of responsive design below — these screenshots show the website we built for Marshall Pierce & Company on a desktop, tablet, and phone. Notice how the content adjusts based on the size of the screen so that it’s always readable and easy to navigate. If you’re on a computer, you can see this effect by resizing your browser window.

Marshall Pierce & Company Responsive Website Example

Marshall Pierce & Company’s responsive website works great on all devices.

At COORDINATE° we employ a mobile-first design philosophy, and while the process of making a site responsive is usually part of an overall redesign, there are instances where an existing site can be modified without needing a full overhaul. If you’re interested in learning more about responsive websites, or want to know how Google’s changes will affect your existing site, don’t hesitate to send us a note.