April 2015 : Mobile-friendly web sites

Google has recently announced that it is going to introduce an addition to its ranking algorithm and that compatibility with mobile phones will influences the position of web pages in Google's search results. Google has subsequently indicated that this change will only affect the ranking of web pages when the user searches on a mobile phone and that regular search results on full-size monitors will not be affected by the new algorithm. However, there appears to be some doubt about this and it also appears probable that the other major search engine Bing (also used by Yahoo) will follow suit.

For the last six months, all of our new and updated web sites have utilised responsive web design for the web pages and meet Google's 'mobile-friendly' requirements. Earlier fixed pixel-width web pages are unlikely to be considered mobile-friendly by Google even though, in practise, they may work perfectly well on a mobile phone. We know of web sites which display perfectly on a smart phone but are still considered not mobile-friendly by Google. We have also found that some web pages which meet the requirements of being 'mobile-friendly' by Google, in practise do not actually work very well.

Google's new mobile ranking algorithm started rolling out on 21 April 2015.

How does this affect you?

If pages of your web site are not mobile-friendly according to Google, you may well experience a reduction in search ranking after 21 April - although possibly only when the search is carried out on a small-screen device such as a mobile phone. If this does not concern you then you need do nothing. If this does concern you then you will need to consider having pages of your web site made mobile-friendly for search engines.

The technical bit (if you are interested)

Web pages are written in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) source code supplemented by Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for layout and appearance and with limited use of Javascript where required for functionality. Although our earlier (fixed pixel-width) designs ensured usability on small screens as well as desk-top monitors, this usually required considerable horizontal scrolling.

Over the last year we have been exploring the possibility of making our web page designs more compatible with the wide range of screen sizes on which web sites are now viewed - anything from large desktop monitors down to mobile phones.

Until fairly recently, if web pages needed to be specifically suited to a mobile phone screen, a separate page design was needed together with 'sniffer' software to decide which page design was needed for the screen being used.

With the advent of the latest markup code for web pages, HTML5, together with compatibility with CSS3 of all the major web browsers, by using responsive web design techniques, it has become possible to make one web page design suitable for most screen sizes. Web pages designed with responsive web design adapt the layout to the viewport (screen size) by using fluid, proportion-based grids, flexible images and CSS3 media queries.

Google's mobile-friendly testing tool indicates whether or not Google considers a web page design to be mobile-friendly.