Over the course of the last week you may have got an email from Google Webmaster tools alerting you to mobile usability issues with your website. If you weren’t sure what they were talking about or what you need to do next, we’ll try to pick that apart for you.
If you don’t yet use webmaster tools as part of the monitoring of your business’s website stop and sort that out right away -- it’s free and as simple as adding a unique meta tag to your homepage. If you’d like to get the same verdict on your mobile usability without a Webmaster tools account you can get the same results by typing your web address into this online tool: google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly .
Understanding your report
Back to that email. Depending upon how many of Google’s heuristics your site fails for mobile visitors you would have received an email that read along the lines of:
“Google systems have tested 235 pages from your site and found that 95% of them have critical mobile usability errors”
Click through to the view your mobile issues, either from the email or within your Webmaster tools account and you’ll see a breakdown of your failures:
- Text too small to read - pretty self explanatory, on scaling down your website for smaller screens your text becomes too small to be legible
- Mobile viewport not set - Your site is missing an invisible meta tag that instructs browsers how to scale your content to the screen its rendered on
- Links too close together - Fingers and thumbs occupy a bigger target area when they click links compared to your mouse cursor. Make sure there’s plenty of space around links and buttons when it gets scaled down to a mobile screen
Are there other issues that would mean a poor mobile experience for your users? Certainly, but lots of those would prove too complex for Google to analyse.
If you’d like to know that information lots of the most critical extra points are covered by running their their accompanying Pagespeed Insights report .
What does this report mean for me?
So, first up if your site is failing any of these tests what will be the outcome for your website? Well, according to a post from the Google Webmaster Central team they are going to begin labelling the entries they consider “mobile-friendly” on their search results page for mobile (see below for an example).
Perhaps more importantly in that post above the Webmaster central team casually mention that they are “also experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal” . i.e. failing sites may soon be penalised in mobile search results.
This follows a similar pattern from the suite of page-speed tools Google previously introduced: They launch a set of detailed tools to help people test and improve the speed of their websites, whilst simultaneously using this detailed information to improve the quality of their core product - search.
And again, as with page speed it would be nigh-on impossible to know quite what weighting this signal has in amongst all the other ranking factors that Google analyses to determine your result position. But the fact is they’re using it.
So, what do I need to do?
This is going to be different for every business owner, with your differing set of mobile usability results. But we can try to guide you as to what you need to consider to make your decision.
For this article we’ll focus on those who have, by Google’s definition, several critical failings in mobile usability.
Your first step is to estimate what damage this is causing your business. Dig into your analytics reports and get an idea of what percentage of your audience is mobile (and how quickly this segment is growing).
Next break down the mobile percentage of your audience hitting your goals, be it completing an ecommerce transaction, registering for an account, or however else you define online success. You’re trying to get an idea of how many of your customers arrive on mobile, and crucially how many drop out of the conversion process due to these usability concerns. Make sure you compare this to your desktop, or non-mobile audience to check that your usability concerns don’t run wider than just mobile.
Now you need to widen your research. Try getting benchmark data for your industry. Look into the benchmark reports in Analytics for starters. Try to determine if your mobile share is significantly behind those of your competitors. Is there a large chunk of your audience proven to be on mobile that you’re never even seeing due to poor performance in organic search on mobile?
(If all that seems outside of your business’s skill set you could always hire someone like Ecce Media to do this step for you.)
Work out the costs of putting it right
Again, this will be entirely different depending upon the complexity of your website, your content and the way it was originally built. The best person to answer this for you will be those who built the website for you originally.
A best case would be amending your viewport meta tag and/or adding a small amount of extra styling to improve legibility on smaller screens. The worst case? A complete rebuild.
To try and give you a bit more of an insight than “how long is a piece of string” these are some factors that would increase the cost of improving mobile usability:
- Your site has lots of complex forms for visitors to fill out
- Your site has lots of Flash-based content
- Your site has an old, table-based layout
- Your website contains lots of high resolution images
- You sell online
Armed with these two pieces of information you should now be able to decide if these usability concerns justify the development costs in putting them right.