What is the first thing that pops into your head when you hear words like “apps”, “data”, “contacts”, or “social media”?
Now try imagining things for words like “difference engine”, “Turing machine”, “Z1”, and “point-contact transistors.”
Here’s a hint about the second set of words: they have to do with the history of computers.
Remember computers? With a big bulky box called a hard drive, and the screens (aka monitors), which took up more space than your mother-in-law at Christmastime. Back in ancient times, circa 1999 and prior, a thin, black square known as a floppy disk could be inserted into the big bulky box and hold teeny tiny bits of files to be accessed later.
I’m 25 years old–and I’m talking about these things like they’re hints of yesteryear. LOL.
Technology has advanced, fast.
Fast forward to 2016, when images of a room full of computer equipment and that little thing called a “mouse” seem unfathomable to those of us who carry our whole lives in our back pocket. Today, everything from our favorite shopping sites to our bank accounts and emergency contacts to our kids’ schedules can be accessed through one convenient, tiny, handheld device: a smartphone.
Guess that? That’s exactly where AMP, mobile-indexing, and being mobile friendly comes into play. Let’s discuss. (Oh, and keep scrolling for the screenshot where our site shows up as AMP verified in Google! It’s too cool to miss. ;-))
Living in a Connected World: Here’s the Proof
It should come as no surprise that nearly 2/3 of Americans own a smartphone and about 10% of those have no high-speed internet service at home and no way to access the web other than a smartphone. Across every age group, income bracket, and education level, smartphones are where it’s at.
Think it’s just young people? Think again. According to Pew Research, 92% of adults over the age of 50 regularly used their devices in the past year to text, browse the web, and access email.
Srsly? 92% of adults OVER 50 text and email on their smartphones now? It’s time to get mobile with your content, folks.
Google Experiments with Mobile-First Index
In November, Google announced that it was beginning experiments on making their index mobile-first. To express it in simple terms, this change means that ranking signals will be based first on the mobile version of a website, then fall back to the desktop version if no mobile version is available.
Wow! So Google will check to see if your site works well on mobile, and then on desktop.
What is an index? When you perform a search in Google, their programs do a check of an index to find the search results that are most relevant before presenting them to you. This is similar to looking in the back of a very large book (remember those?) at the index section, which tells you where everything is located.
This change will eliminate the “mobile-friendly” adjustments that are performed for smartphone users; whether you are accessing the internet from a phone or a laptop will not make a difference in rank results.
What Google’s Move Could Mean for Site Owners
Although this news may feel like the end of an era, it is not the full end of desktop ranking as we know it. This discussion has actually been going on for over a year, but with Google’s official announcement, it feels more real. And that means site owners will need to think about their own webpages and how mobile-friendly they are to visitors.
If you do not currently have a mobile version of your website, Google will rank based on the desktop version instead. If your site is a dynamic serving site or a responsive site, meaning the primary content is equivalent across both mobile and desktop, you should not have to change anything.
However, if you have a site configuration, where the content is different across desktop and mobile devices, you may want to consider implementing some changes in order to rank more effectively. The good news is that there are modifications you can implement now to gain an edge. For instance, if you have a separate desktop and mobile version of your page, work to make them cohesive with correct structured data on the mobile site. Test your date here.
Think about the structure or your site and what that means for your visitors. Is your desktop page loaded with information, but your mobile page is bare bones? Evaluate why that is, and make some changes. Go to your own website often via a mobile device to feel what it’s like to be a visitor. Is your content engaging? Will people want to stay and hang out? Are the buttons and links easy to click through?
One important key to the whole thing is AMP. Google recently told us that rankings may depend on it – we heard it straight from the horse’s mouth at this year’s SEJ Summit!
What is AMP, and Why Should I Care?
AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, and open-source HTML framework allowing pages to load quickly but without all the extras that tend to slow sites down. After all, who has time to wait 20 seconds for content to load?
Slower page response time results in increased page abandonment, and statistics have shown that when site visitors are forced to spend 4 seconds waiting for a page to load, about 25 percent of them are going to bail. To put it in dollar figures, if an e-commerce website makes $100,000 per day, a 1-second page deal could cost $2.5 million in lost sales per year.
If the year was 1980, that would equal about 2,700 Commodore computers. Ouch.
There are some ways to increase the speed of a mobile page, including:
- Keep tracking codes simple and limit the use of video embeds. This can drag page speed down.
- Use smaller, lower-resolution images on your mobile site. Giant images will just get in the way and will not be as appealing.
- Limit third-party content as much as possible. It may not be optimized for mobile viewing.
As you can probably guess, faster pages mean happier visitors. And the happier the visitors are, the more they are inclined to hang out on your site and engage with your content.
So how easy is it to implement AMP? If you are new to mobile webpage optimizations, you can learn how to get started on the AMP website.
Once you have AMP correctly installed, you’ll have this beautiful “AMP” “certified” bubble/text thingy next to your site URL, from Google. It will magically appear on users’ cell phone browsers (I’m screen-shotting from my iPhone 6 Plus):
8 Tips on How to Create Mobile-Friendly Content
In light of Google’s announcement, there are steps that site owners can take to prepare for the future. Here are some tips that can help you create mobile-friendly content:
1. Submit your page to Google’s index directly
Use their new mobile-friendly testing tool at google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly. Simply type in your URL, and the results will tell you if your site is mobile-friendly, as well as provide you with a screenshot sample.
2. Never, never, ever use Flash
It’s not the ’90s, and it’s not cool anymore. You’d think we wouldn’t have to add this tip, but hey–there’s still some Flash sites out there (insert facepalm emoticon.)
3. Use a larger font
Don’t worry, you’re not insulting the young: sizes are scaled according to the device. Start with 16 pixels, and keep it simple by avoiding too many styles and sizes on your pages.
4. Check relative width
Then, position values for CSS elements. This eliminates the need for visitors to scroll horizontally to see images on your page. If you need help, Google has a tutorial here.
5. Consider the space between buttons and links in your setup
Too close together, and a mobile user can’t tap one without tapping the other.
6. Consistently monitor
Make sure your website’s navigation is easy and stress-free. You want to be sure the user experience is top-notch!
7. Keep the design simple
Remember that all those graphics and videos may interfere with your site’s ability to load quickly.
8. Get AMP-ed
Consider setting up AMP for your website. See above for more on that.
It’s Not You, It’s Me: Creating Mobile Friendly Content is In
We can look back on the days of the Commodore with both nostalgia–memories of your first job, first family computer, first school assignment typed up–and with a grateful heart. Some of us will never appreciate the days of old, which were burdened by multiple boxes of computer equipment that had to be wired to a dial-up connection (whatever that is) as we accessed the World Wide Web at home.
As society moves farther and farther away from its break-up with the traditional desktop, it remains key to stay up-to-date with shifts in technology and how smartphone users connect with the world. Website owners cannot afford to produce mediocre content while assuming it will be displayed similarly across all platforms, especially in light of Google’s latest announcement.
Google’s mobile-first index is still in an early stage, and there are many challenges yet to be overcome. But this turn down a new path signals a shift in website design that content developers and website managers would be wise to pay attention to as we continue to move forward with our lives tucked safely into our back pocket (no mouse required).