Going into 2015, it’s becoming clear that designing websites with mobile usability in mind is of great importance. With the ever-changing developments taking place in the mobile world, it’s been believed for a while that ensuring users can access a website on various devices is a great way to keep a business ahead of the competition. At the end of the day, if someone trying to buy a product using a mobile device has problems finding what they want, the chances are they’re going to give up and try again elsewhere.
But this idea has become even more important over the past few weeks and we believe that user experience on a mobile device will soon become vital for businesses wanting to succeed in securing a top position within the organic results of search engines. In this blog post, we take a look at how mobile experience will begin to affect a website’s SEO and how it impacts the user experience even at the initial search stage of a user’s journey. We also discuss how responsive web design is the solution for a business to provide the best user experience and, simultaneously, succeed in improving their online visibility.
Search Engine Optimisation and mobile
Until now, it was only considered good practice to include a mobile version of your website as part of your SEO.
However Google has recently released a statement saying:
“We are also experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal.”
Alongside this, other recent signals indicate that mobile usability is to become even more important:
- Mobile-friendly descriptions and icons - We covered this topic a couple of months ago when it was first spotted. Google began showing ‘Mobile-friendly’ descriptions and icons within the search results. These would only show to people using their mobile device to access Google and they would only appear next to web results that Google deemed to be mobile-friendly. It appears that Google was testing the two different versions (e.g. the description vs the icon) to see which worked better. From their analysis of click through and bounce rates, they have since chosen to use the descriptive indicator.
- Non-mobile-friendly icons - This was also covered in the above-mentioned blog post. As well as telling users that a website is mobile-friendly, Google even went so far as to tell people which websites were non-mobile-friendly too. During this time, they were using icons to advise mobile users they may not have the best experience when accessing the website. This seems to have only taken place during the testing period mentioned above and since, Google appear to have removed this feature.
- Mobile usability tool - Google added a section within their Webmaster Tools which highlights whether they have detected any potential user experience issues when viewing a website on a mobile device.
- Mobile-friendly testing tool - Shortly after introducing the above, Google then proceeded to announce the release of their mobile-friendly testing tool which anyone can access. After entering a web address, Google will analyse it and report back deeming whether or not the page in question has a mobile-friendly design.
All signs seem to point to mobile user experience becoming an important factor for Google – and subsequently within SEO – in the next few months. Google have always stated their desire to give people the very best user experience and this experience is, of course, affected by the websites users click through to. Because of this, we have always had a strong belief that the ideal online setup for any business is responsive web design.
Benefits of responsive web design
It doesn’t matter whether it’s an ecommerce business or a simple brochure website in question; in this day and age, it’s vital to succeed online. This should cover every step of a user’s journey, right from the beginning. And the first thing a user does is choosing either to sit down at a desktop computer or pull out their mobile device, whether it be a tablet or a smartphone. Whichever they choose, it’s crucial they can access a website and receive the same good user experience on both devices. Responsive web design is the best solution to achieving this for the following reasons:
- It is possible to create separate websites for different devices, but the fact that a responsive website will adapt to any screen size or resolution means the need for this is removed and subsequently, the user will have the same experience no matter what device they’re using
- Many users will often carry out research into a service or product on one device and then make their enquiry or purchase on another. Let’s take an ecommerce website, for instance. It’s not uncommon for people to use their smartphone to find and research a product, but some people feel more comfortable entering card details and making their purchase on a desktop computer. Having a responsive website means this user’s experience will remain the same, even if they choose to switch devices half way through their journey
- Content and web pages are easier to share (particularly on social media) because everything can be found at the same URL
- Similarly to the above, updating and maintaining a website’s content (particularly when it comes to adding blog posts) is much quicker as it’s all the same content, making things easier for the webmaster
- When designing separate mobile websites, mistakes (see below) can be quite common. Responsive web design removes the risk of these mistakes from taking place
What are the best practices?
When considering how to approach a project for a responsive website, people can draw from their own personal experiences when deciphering what requirements are needed. What problems and obstacles do you often come across when using a mobile device?
As well as this though, there are a few well-known issues and mistakes:
- Flash - Not all mobile devices support Flash, so any webmasters using this may begin to see a drop in the number of visitors accessing their website through a mobile device
- Buttons too close together - It’s vital to ensure ample spacing is placed between buttons to avoid the risk of accidental clicking; this is a sure-fire way to frustrate users, leading them to navigate away from a website
- Slow load time - This is already used by Google as a factor when deciding where to rank a desktop website within their search results, so it makes sense to ensure that a mobile website is loading just as quickly too. Google wants to provide their users with the best experience and so a website that loads quickly will be placed above a slow-loading website within the search results. An ideal webpage loading speed to aim for is two seconds or less.
- Small text - A user will sometimes need to zoom in on a page in order to read what’s there. Not only can this cause frustration, but it can also confuse matters as the navigation changes when the user is forced to scroll left and right to read all the content. So making sure the text is large enough to read text without needing to zoom in is important.
- Scrolling left and right - Briefly touched on above. Scrolling up and down should be the only way for a user to navigate. If they have to scroll left and right, it can confuse things. You should ensure all the content and navigation is both visible and accessible for a user, simply by scrolling up and down.
Amongst other factors, Google uses an engine to determine whether all these aspects are present on a website and subsequently uses their findings to assess the user experience. And it’s this which may soon begin to affect a website’s position in the natural search results. Not only will responsive web design ensure a website offers a great user experience on mobile devices, but it will also send the right signals to Google, which is where many potential user experiences begin.
By designing with mobile in mind and using responsive web design, businesses will find they are more likely to retain visitors to their website as a result of them providing a good user experience. Google is all about user experience and so a website that they know is visitor-friendly, coupled with the fact it can be accessed easily – no matter on what device or screen resolution – are clear signals to Google that this website is likely to be a winner with users.
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