It Looks Like Google Is Adding Another Ranking Signal

Chris CrumSearch

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It looks like Google is going to be taking the mobile user experience of websites into account as a ranking signal in its algorithm It's actually pretty surprising if they're not already doing so.

How much weight should such a signal carry? Should it affect a site's rankings on the desktop? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Google has been pushing webmasters to make their sites better on mobile devices for quite some time, but now we have a Googler basically hinting at it as a direct signal.

Barry Schwartz, writing for the Search Marketing Expo's companion site, Search Engine Land, reports:

At Search Marketing Expo East, Google engineer, Gary Illyes talked a lot of user experience and that webmasters really need to focus on that. Over the past week or so, I asked Google about this and tried to understand why Google stressed this point so much at the event. Google told me “we’re making a big push to ensure the search results we deliver reflect this principle.”

That's not exactly an announcement of a new signal like when Google formally said HTTPS would be a ranking signal, but what else could it mean?

The report also shares this statement from Google:

Mobile-friendly websites provide a much better user experience for the mobile users. According to our studies, 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site that they had trouble accessing from their phone. That includes sites that use fonts which are illegible on mobile, or sites where users have to zoom in or pan around excessively. Mobile is a very important area; the mobile device penetration is over 50% in the USA and most users use their device for browsing websites.

The fact is that sometimes the more relevant content isn't optimized for Google. SEO just isn't a priority or even an acknowledgement for a great number of sites on the web, and sometimes those sites have good content.

One way Google is helping its users with that is to give notifications about when their device doesn't support elements of certain search results, such as when pages use Flash. In fact, the company just expanded this feature globally.

“A common annoyance for web users is when websites require browser technologies that are not supported by their device,” said Google’s Keita Oda and Pierre Far. “When users access such pages, they may see nothing but a blank space or miss out a large portion of the page’s contents.”

Here’s what one of the results may look like:

“Fortunately, making websites that work on all modern devices is not that hard: websites can use HTML5 since it is universally supported, sometimes exclusively, by all devices,” the Googlers said. “To help webmasters build websites that work on all types of devices regardless of the type of content they wish to serve, we recently announced two resources: Web Fundamentals (a curated source for modern best practices); and Web Starter Kit (a starter framework supporting the Web Fundamentals best practices out of the box).”

Google has also been notifying webmasters about faulty redirects, trying to save users from tapping on a search result only to be redirected to the site's mobile homepage.

You can find Web Fundamentals here. On the site it’s described as a comprehensive resource for multi-device web development. It includes sections on multi-device tools, multi-device layouts, forms and user input, images/audio/video, optimising performance, and device access.

Web Starter Kit is here. From the site, you can download the beta kit, which includes a responsive boilerplate, a style guide, cross-device sync, live browser reloading, performance optimization, a built-in HTTP server, PageSpeed Insights reporting, and Sass support.

Google also notes that you should not block crawling of any Googlebot of CSS, JavaScript or images with robots.txt or otherwise.

Meanwhile, Google has for the last couple years been improving its crawling capabilities for smartphone content.

Would you be happy to see Google take mobile user experience into account for ranking purposes? Let us know in the comments.

Image via Google

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.