Think your desktop site’s good enough for mobile visitors? Does Google?

Summary — Sites designed for desktop/laptop computers are hard to navigate and read on smaller screens. Transitional techniques (like pinch-and-zoom) mitigated this, but Google’s been down-ranking “not mobile friendly” sites since 2015. Tackling this is not as daunting as you might think and it will strengthen your site in ways you may not expect.

The problem: smaller screens are smaller

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 much too small for our fingertips
  • text gets too small to read
  • columns of text are too wide to read easily
  • images may be too small
  • menus may work differently or much better with a mouse
  • page layouts are optimized for certain specific screen sizes — forcing people to resort to the pinch-and-zoom behaviour that’s like reading a newspaper through a keyhole. Even reading a sentence takes conscious effort, panning around, back and forth.

screenshots of a desktop-optimized site versus mobile-optimized
Pinch-and-zoom at left, mobile-friendly version of the same site 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 (not shown here).

The 2007-era 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. These are all steeped in denial:

  • 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 is via phones, and this has been true for years. If your site’s analytics say differently, 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 not too late to fix this!