So you think your desktop website’s good enough for phones. Does Google?

Summary — Websites designed for desktop/laptop computers are hard to navigate and read on smaller screens. The iPhone’s transitional pinch-and-zoom feature was enough for a while, but Google has been down-ranking mobile-hostile websites since 2015. Addressing this issue isn’t as daunting as you might think and it will strengthen your site in ways you may not expect.

The problem: small screens are small

Websites designed for desktop computers don’t work very well on small screens. Specifically,

  • content scales down to fit small screens, making links, buttons, and other controls designed with high-precision pointing devices in mind far too small for fingertips
  • text gets illegibly small
  • lines of text are too wide to read easily
  • images may be too small to read easily
  • menus may work differently — or better — with a mouse
  • page layouts are optimized for certain specific screen sizes — forcing people to resort to pinch-and-zoom. It’s like reading through a keyhole: it might be possible, but it’s not enjoyable.

screenshots of a desktop-optimized site versus mobile-optimized
Pinch-and-zoom at left; mobile-friendly version at right. Mobile version has a larger logo, a button to expose the navigation, larger webmail button, a search button (that doesn’t appear on the desktop version), different masthead photo treatment, larger text, and the sidebar has dropped to the bottom (off-screen in this case).

The early iPhone miracle of pinch-and-zoom quickly went from enabling to annoying. There is a better way.

Rationalisations for ignoring mobile optimization

I’ve heard variations on all of these:

  • my site looks fine on my phone, so I don’t need to change anything;
  • people only use their phones when they aren’t at a real computer;
  • my customers don’t use smartphones,
  • people only visit websites on their phones from their cars, and I don’t need people to access my site from their car;
  • it costs too much to update.

The bottom line

  • If your site’s not optimized for mobile, Google will suggest it less. Most traffic these days comes from people browsing on their phones. This has been true for years. If your site’s analytics say differently, consider that your mobile-hostile site may be the reason.
  • A better experience — easier reading, menus that work better, images people can see properly — leads to people finding what they want, with more engagement, and more repeat visits. This is why you have a website.

Is your site actually mobile-friendly?

How do you know if your website is what Google considers “mobile friendly”? Sites designed before 2007 almost certainly aren’t; sites designed before 2012 or 2013 may not be. Even if it’s newer than that, it’s worth taking a look. And just because the first page you test passes doesn’t mean they all do: test pages that use different layouts or feature different types of content.

Google has a free tool that will test your site for you:

Let’s get started

Get in touch today — it’s never too late to turn this around!