Understanding Mobile Web Design

If you are hearing a lot of references to the phrases “mobile-friendly”, “responsive mobile” or “mobile responsive” in regards to website design and not quite sure what all this means, you are not alone.  You may also be aware that these phrases somehow play into your Google rankings but are not entirely sure how or why? Let’s review so we can come away with a clearer understanding.

While there is a variation on the types of mobile design, usually when you hear the phrase “responsive mobile design” or “mobile responsive design” the person speaking is referring in general to “mobile friendly design”.  As of the date that this article is written, “mobile friendly” refers to a site that when displayed on a mobile device:

  • doesn’t require the user to zoom in and out
  • doesn’t use Flash (which is not supported on mobile devices)
  • doesn’t scroll horizontally
  • spaces navigation items far enough apart so the correct one can be easily selected by the user

If your site was built a few years ago, you may have been told that is was mobile friendly.  And that very well may “have” been the case then.  However, as things change, so do Internet definitions.

I remember the original iPhone advertisements back in 2007-2008.  They showed the iPhone impressively displaying the entire New York Times homepage on its tiny screen.  Of course, you’d have to have eyes of a hawk to read it like that, so the iPhone had a handy feature called “pinch and zoom” to zoom in certain details of the page so you could read it.  A great feature… in 2008, but not so great now.  No one now wants to have to pinch and zoom their screens to read content or to click links – that’s so… 2008.  So, just because your website can be used on a mobile device, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is considered mobile friendly.  Remember, 2008 mobile friendly design – bad, 2015 mobile friendly design – good.  Progress has been made!

So why does all this matter to Google?  If mobile friendly design impacts how my site is displayed, why would Google care if the content is the same?  After all, isn’t “content king” when it comes to SEO?

Yes, content is definitely still king, but the user experience is at the least a part of the royal court.  Mobile friendly design matters to Google because more people are now searching Google on their mobile devices (including Google’s Android platform) than on traditional desktop/laptop computers.  If Google sends its users off to sites that are hard to use on a mobile device, people will get frustrated with Google and look elsewhere to find the content they are looking for.  So it is still about content, but the user experience helps that content get found.

Even if users stay within Google for their searches, when content is hard to view, Google knows users are going to hit the back button and look for another site with similar content that is easier to view.  If that’s the case, it makes sense for Google to give preference to the easier to view site, all else being equal.

If your site is still stuck in 2008, contact us on how we can help bring you to the mobile masses.