Why “Mobile-Friendly” Might Not Be Enough

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This past Spring, Google announced that sites not deemed “mobile-friendly” could face penalties in mobile search results in upcoming algorithm updates.

Predictably, business owners and webmasters alike have been scrambling to devise cost-effective solutions for deploying mobile-friendly website versions.

Often, they rely on Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to diagnose each web page on a case-by-case basis before deciding which pages to target for responsive or custom mobile design.

And as we’ve seen, the increase in mobile traffic is one of the biggest recent trends in SEO.

The Limitations of Google’s Mobile-Friendly Analysis

True/False Decisions Aren’t Enough

With the Mobile-Friendly testing tool, users are returned either a “yes” or a “no” answer to the question “is this webpage mobile friendly?”

The tool leaves very little room for interpretation or extrapolation. More specifically, “Yes! This page is mobile friendly” criteria provides no insights as to why Google has deemed the page favorable.

Likewise, “No! This page is not mobile friendly” results contain no specifications as to why the page was scored that way. We’re missing real metrics that enable us to give Google what they’re asking for.

The Tools Focuses Only on Layout

A similar limitation of the Mobile-Friendly test is that it only tests for broad layout and user experience metrics. Pagespeed does not yet appear to be a core component of the Mobile-Friendly Testing tool, which can lead to some false hope when evaluating pages that are otherwise a mess from a user experience & page speed perspective.

A “mobile-friendly” page as returned by the Mobile Friendly Testing Tool doesn’t necessarily test pages against Google’s more stringent mobile web guidelines.

Additional Mobile Audit Tools

Pagespeed Insights (mobile)

The Pagespeed Insights tool is extremely useful for getting more granular data about where a site stands in relation to Google’s webmaster guidelines. When you run a test on a website using Pagespeed Insights, pay special attention to the very clearly delineated “mobile” portion of that data.

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This is a core component of Google’s algorithm used to rank sites. Since a big part of SEO involves optimizing sites for search, use the mobile Page speed score as your baseline in both performance and user experience testing.

Aggregators

In addition to incorporating the Pagespeed Insights mobile site test into your mobile site audits, there are myriad tools that pool data from multiple sources to provide a more comprehensive overview of mobile strengths and weaknesses.

One popular tool is FeedtheBot, which tests web performance using several of Google’s APIs. FeedtheBot has entire tests dedicated to mobile that allow us to more comprehensively identify what’s going on behind the scenes and to enact a prescriptive plan to fix it.

Branding & Marketing Considerations Are a Compass for Us All

User-experience orientation

It’s very possible – common, even – for a website to pass Google’s mobile-friendly test and tout all the best Pagespeed metrics without actually providing the best experience for a site’s user base.

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For example, a mobile-only site that does not align with branding and design standards of the desktop site can be confusing for visitors who are familiar with the original site and are visiting via phone or tablet for the first time.

Likewise, a site that has unusable features resulting from a lack of thorough testing can cause frustrating for both users and developers. No one likes broken links, and a broken site is 10 times worse.

Conversion Goals

Furthermore, a mobile site that contains a clean layout, loads fast and provides a consistent user experience might STILL not be enough to satisfy the goals of your campaign.

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If you’re running PPC ads and a large percentage of your users are arriving via mobile, your mobile site could suffer from lower conversion rates related to the placement of key call-to-actions and input items.

That’s because most websites typically feature action buttons and forms that become less prominent on the website once it shifts to the mobile version. In other words, sites deemed otherwise outstanding from a website design & performance perspective are often only marginally effective when conversion goals aren’t mobile optimized.

Follow these tips and techniques to take your mobile site to the next level. What are your best techniques for mobile optimization?