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What Google Really Means By “Mobile Friendly”

Google is phasing in a new “mobile friendly” tag in its search results. The presence of the tag simply indicates that the site has passed muster in Google’s Mobile Friendly Test.

Right now there’s an easy, narrow answer to the question of what this means. A site will be labeled mobile friendly if it:

  • Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
  • Uses text that is readable without zooming
  • Sizes content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
  • Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped

So there you have it – done deal. Off you go!

Wait: Let’s think about this

For those of you who are looking ahead at broadly optimizing and adapting mobile strategy in 2015, you’re probably reading between the lines here. Doing *just* what Matt Cutts (or in this case Gary Illeyes) says to do has always been a recipe for shortsighted policies that waste time and sets you up for a fall in the not-too-distant future. Making sure your site is compliant with these four criteria is a start, but you’re not going to stop there.

What Google’s doing, obviously, is nudging us to focus on the user.  Gary Illyes of Google noted as much in a recent interview:  “Whatever we do, it’s about the user. We want them happy and if we can contribute to their happiness, we will…We’re putting more emphasis on UX because we simply want users to enjoy the web, regardless of what device they’re using or where they are.”

Building an effective mobile site isn’t about how much space is between the links – it’s about designing from the perspective of your end users and giving them a great experience. If you’ve truly thought mobile-first and designed for end users on a variety of devices, none of the four criteria listed here will be a problem.

Stay ahead of Google

Mr. Illyes hinted that as soon as they can, they’ll be adding more criteria to this tag to improve accuracy. Don’t wait to be dragged along by the ear.  Start by asking yourself – or your spouse, your coworkers, your grandmother – is my mobile site easy and enjoyable to use? Not whether it’s sexy or #trendy or technically impressive, but whether easy and enjoyable to use.  It’s important to ask these questions before the design or redesign process gets bogged down with competing stakeholders and technical limitations. .

If you put in the work, make some hard decisions about what needs to be included in your mobile experience, and design mobile-first, you’ll be well situated.  Then when the next Google update comes around, which will invariably place even greater emphasis on mobile UX or mobile performance, you can smile and say “about time.”

To read more on how to avoid the kinds of mistakes Google has pointed out with this test, click below for our free eBook, Avoiding Mobile Mistakes.

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