Google’s Mobile-Friendly Ranking – What you need to know

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Ranking Algorithm

Mobile-Friendly Ranking Algorithm Facts

In case you haven’t heard by now, the world’s most popular search engine will be rolling out a significant mobile ranking algorithm on April 21st. There has been a great deal of information circulating throughout the Internet and some are confused. I’ve heard a number of questions from concerned website owners about how this algorithm will work and if their website will pass.

In March, we published the article, Google Mobilegeddon Looms Near – Are you Ready? In that article, I covered what the mobile friendly algorithm is, why Google was doing this, and how to determine how you can determine how much organic mobile traffic you could lose if your website is not mobile friendly.

Let’s take a closer look at how to test your website, what this algorithm is expected to do, what it will not do, and tips on how to fix common issues.

How to Tell if Your Website is Mobile-Friendly

First, if you are not sure if your website will pass Google’s mobile friendly requirements, here are two things that you can do:

  • Smart Phone TestMobile-friendly label in search results
    Take out your smart phone and search for your website on Google. If you see the gray “Mobile-friendly” label beneath your website’s URL in the results, you will know that Google has identified your site as mobile-friendly.
  • Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test
    Google has provided a mobile-friendly test tool that will help you determine if your website passes the mobile friendly test at:

There are a certain criteria that Google uses to determine if your website passes the current mobile-friendly test. This includes:

  • Is the font size too small to read on a mobile device?
  • Are the links and buttons on your website too close together?
  • Has the mobile viewport been set correctly?
  • Do you have unplayable content like flash?

The following are more questions that you might be asking:

Am I blocking Googlebot?

This past week, I received a message from a website owner that tested her website with Google’s Mobile-Friendly test tool. Her responsive website failed and she couldn’t understand why. A quick test of her site on the testing tool showed the following message:

“This page may not appear not mobile-friendly because the robots.txt file may block Googlebot from loading some of the page’s resources.”

A quick look at this site’s robots.txt showed that it was blocking Googlebot from accessing the wp-content folder on her website. This blocked the mobile cascading style sheets (CSS) that controlled the mobile-friendliness of the website. When this block was removed from the robots.txt, her website passed the mobile-friendly test.

Website with blocked folder in robots.txt
Google's mobile-friendly test showing blocked resource

Photo of same website’s mobile-friendly test
after the robots.txt disallow of a folder was removed.
Google's mobile-friendly test showing unblocked robots.txt

How long will it take for Google to roll out the new mobile algorithm?

According to Mary of the Google Webmaster Relation Team in a Q&A session for mobile-friendly ranking change, although Google will be launching the mobile-friendly algorithm on April 21st, it will take a “couple of days – maybe a week or so.”

Is it Okay to have a Separate Mobile Site?

What if you have a separate mobile site on a separate domain like mydomain.mobi? Will it pass Google’s mobile-friendly criteria?

As much as I would love to design a new responsive website for you, the answer is may surprise you. A responsive website is not part of Google’s ranking criteria for this roll out. Your website is mobile-friendly or it is not. It’s that simple.

Mary from the Google Webmaster Relation Team stated in the same Google MobileMadness Q&A session that, “It is perfectly fine to have your mobile site set up on a separate domain.” She did emphasize that you will need to tell Google what the alternate mobile version is by setting up the “rel-caronical” correctly.

For example, your desktop “rel-caronical” might be:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://yourdomain.com ” />

Then, your separate domain mobile version would be:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://yourdomain.mobi” />

Even though responsive design is not a ranking aspect for the April 21st algorithm, it is important to point out that Google has been recommending responsive website design since June 2012.

Do WordPress Mobile Plugins Work?

In my tests of WordPress driven websites that use mobile plugins, those that used the mobile plugins, WP Touch Mobile Plugin and Jetpack’s mobile module, for their mobile site passed Google’s mobile-friendly test.

What if Only Part of My Website is Mobile-friendly?

Google’s mobile ranking algorithm will be on a page-by-page analysis. For example, if you have a static website that is not mobile-friendly and a WordPress blog that is mobile-friendly, then Google will we label the blog pages as mobile-friendly.

What if I can’t Make the April 21st Deadline?

If you are unable to have your entire website mobile-friendly by April 21st, the first thing to do is not to panic. You can concentrate on your most important pages right away. One important page that you will want to consider serving as mobile-friendly is your home page.

How Long Does it Take For Google to Change My Site’s Mobile Status?

After you have made your website mobile-friendly, the next time Google crawls your site’s individual pages, each page will be marked as mobile-friendly. Unfortunately, there is no exact timetable to predict when Google will crawl your website.

The search engine giant uses computer programs to determine which sites to crawl, how often to crawl them, and how many pages to crawl from each site. There are a number of factors that influence this including PageRank and the number of incoming links to a page.

Will Google’s Desktop Ranking Factors Affect Mobile Results?

This is a great question. With Google’s over 200 ranking factors, it would only make sense that some, if not all, of Google’s ranking factors would be considered soon or are already being considered. For example, page speed is one factor that has an impact on desktop rankings.

Last November, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, was asked if the page speed of a desktop website was used as ranking signal for mobile version. John said that he thought “at the moment” that this was correct. However, he advised,

“I’d still make sure that your mobile friendly pages are as fast as possible, that they work really well on mobile devices, that you’re going past just essentially the required minimum that we had with the mobile friendly tool, and really providing a great experience on mobile.”

At present, it does not appear that page speed will not be part of this April 21st mobile-friendly algorithm. Jennifer Slegg reported that Google Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes, said that page speed is not considered a factor in the mobile ranking signal, yet.

The biggest takeaway here is the “yet.” I would suspect that mobile’s page speed will be ranking factor in the future.

How do I find out more?

If you would like to test your mobile site further for speed and other mobile issues, you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights testing tool. Google will provide you with a list of things to work on.

Google Webmaster Tools Account

If you have a Google Webmaster Tools account, you can also check Google’s analysis of your website’s mobile friendliness and see if there are any suggestions or warnings by going to: Search Traffic > Mobile Usability.

Below is an example of a website with mobile usability issues in Google Webmaster Tools:

Example of website with mobile usalbility issues in Google Webmaster Tools

Takeaway

Google’s mobile-friendly ranking algorithm is right around the corner. There are a number of things that you can do to make sure that the mobile-friendly version of your website passes Google’s test. If you haven’t made the change to a mobile-friendly site, it is time to strongly consider one as soon as possible if you want your website to place in mobile organic search results.

Your Turn

Do you have any questions about Google’s mobile-friendly ranking algorithm? I would love for you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Fascinated with the growing potential and power of the Internet, Robin founded R & R Web Design LLC in the Chicago area in 2000. As creative director, she is passionate about helping others reach their Internet objectives through a strategic online presence with results driven custom web design, ethical SEO, and social media marketing.

This article was published on: April 13, 2015 and was last modified June 2, 2016
6 comments on “Google’s Mobile-Friendly Ranking – What you need to know
  1. Hey Robin, Another BRILLIANT and very useful article. Question, would a website with a busy background (border) work as a responsive website? Thanks again for this great advice!

    • Hi Heidi, thank you! It would depend on how the website was constructed whether or not it is responsive. The busy background (border) should not have an influence. I would be happy to take a look at it – or an example if you would like to PM me.

  2. Robin, this is such a helpful post! Your advice to website owners about fixing the most important pages of their site first is excellent. Thanks for answering so many important questions about the mobile-friendly roll-out.

    • Hi Michelle, thank YOU for taking the time to read this and for your comment. I’m sure that you are hearing many, many questions about this mobile-friendly algorithm roll out, too.

      I just realized that your comment came through! Were you able to determine what happened before?

      • Michelle Phillips says:

        Hi Robin,

        It turns out I should have installed the CloudFlare plugin, which would resolve my original IP. Sometimes CloudFlare IPs are blocked by other servers/processes. But all is well now!

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