Online marketers and SEO specialists have long emphasized the importance of creating a dynamic, up-to-date, mobile-friendly website for large brands and small local businesses alike.  And in past articles we’ve warned that Google was considering updating its algorithm to favor mobile-friendly sites in its mobile search results.  Now it’s official.  If your website is not mobile-friendly, it will be ranked lower in Google’s mobile search results.

In recent weeks, Google fired a warning shot across the bow of webmasters whose sites were found to be not mobile-friendly, by way of email and Google Webmaster Tools notifications.  These warning notices listed the pages of each site containing mobile usability errors, and proclaimed that said pages would be displayed and ranked lower for searches on mobile devices.

Mobile Friendly Labeling

This next step in Google’s campaign to induce webmasters to create more mobile-friendly and mobile-optimized websites comes on top of the implementation of “mobile-friendly” labels on the search engine last November.  The labels were displayed in search results in order to assist users in choosing sites more easily viewed on their mobile devices.

At that time Google execs warned of future plans to implement a new algorithm that would favor mobile-optimized sites in mobile search results.  The future is now, and the algorithm update is set to take effect on April 21st, affecting mobile searches in all languages all around the globe.

To prepare for the change, Google recommends that webmasters utilize the Mobile Usability Report available in Google’s Webmaster Tools to examine mobile usability issues.  Google also offers a quick and easy test page where anyone can plug in their page URLs for a quick analysis.

Mobile-Friendly as a Minimum

Why the big push towards mobile?  As more and more users shift their search habits from desktop to cellphones, tablets and other mobile devices, Google’s efforts to provide the most relevant, quality results must also shift towards surfacing more mobile-optimized content.

Mobile-friendly, however, is only the basic price of admission to the mobile search arena.  In addition to having a site that’s legible on smaller screens, loads fast and doesn’t use any Flash applications, website owners should consider methods of optimizing their sites for mobile, to make them more interactive and intuitive on the different screen sizes.  This can be accomplished using website templates for different types of mobile devices, or by using a responsive website design which adapts itself to the size of the user’s screen rather than the type of device used.

Mobile-optimized sites feature quick, intuitive navigation, large touchpads and formatting that filters out irrelevant text and graphics, prioritizing desired page features so that users can quickly get to where they want to go.  While Google hasn’t yet announced any plans to differentiate between mobile-friendly and mobile-optimized, it’s a logical next step, as more and more users access the Internet by way of phones, tablets, watches and other wearable devices.  Website owners who are considering an upgrade may want to invest in technology that will optimize their site for a wide variety of possible screen sizes.  In the meantime, Google’s message to website owners couldn’t be more clear:  Go mobile or go home.