Last week, Barry Schwartz (news editor of Search Engine Land) put together cues from Google and his own research and came to a potentially game-changing conclusion: mobile accessibility may soon become a part of Google’s ranking algorithms.
“Google sees what users see, and if that is a bad mobile experience, it may impact your rankings,” the article reads.
If accurate, this prediction points to an ever-growing need to consider mobile design as an integral part of building an online presence.
Primacy of the User Experience
Schwartz writes that at Search Marketing Expo Eas, held this year in New York from September 30 through October 2, Google engineer Gary Illyes emphasized the importance of the user experience, or UX in industry slang.
When questioned about the motivation for stressing this point — that webmasters ought to be primarily focused on UX — Google responded that “Because at Google we are aiming to provide a great user experience on any device, we’re making a big push to ensure the search results we deliver reflect this principle. We want users to be able to enjoy the web wherever they are.”
And as Schwartz points out, the strongest method Google can use to promote a certain behavior (such as optimizing for a good mobile UX) is to add it to the ranking algorithms.
“This is nothing terribly unexpected, but could be a problem for some,” explains Andreas Huttenrauch, Chief Digital Strategist for Globi Web Solutions. “For Google to require a good mobile experience is a bit big brotherish. There are many websites that should not need to cater for mobile because they’re just too complex to work on a small screen to begin with.”
These algorithms have become ever more sophisticated in an effort to assess websites based on the same criteria as human searchers might. Search engine optimization, Google has repeatedly said, ought to be focused on delivering a valuable experience to real people, rather than attempting to come up with clever strategies to exploit search algorithms.
For example, Google revealed earlier this year that its bots can now crawl fully rendered pages; this means that a bot sees not just the code that creates any given page, but the front-end page experienced by a user.
More and more Americans are accessing the Internet from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.
In fact, an estimated 50% of cell owners say their mobile is their primary point of web access, and about 28% of Americans say they go online using their mobile devices more frequently than they do via their desktops.
Once those visitors land on a website, their experience can have a marked effect on their likelihood to stay on or revisit the page: 48% of mobile users say that when they land on a website that isn’t mobile-friendly, they assume the company doesn’t care.
Ultimately, these trends mean that businesses interested in boosting traffic, turning visitors into customers and turning those customers into repeat customers must see mobile optimization as a non-negotiable part of website design — regardless of whether the mobile UX becomes a factor in SEO or not.
“Google already uses bounce rate and time-on-site as ranking factors, which do enough to prove an unpleasant user experience. To take it further may be taking it too far,” says Huttenrauch.