Five steps to optimizing a mobile friendly website

In the past few years, the mobile influence has steadily grown. Today, the majority of people prefer to use small screen smart devices to browse the web. In this nonstop, hectic culture, it is often simply faster, easier and more convenient to just search and shop online anytime a few free minutes present themselves. In fact, an estimated 10 percent of all Internet users now only use their mobile devices to search for information, browse and shop online.

This has presented some interesting challenges and opportunities for web hosting companies, webmasters and site owners. One of the biggest hurdles is something called “mobile friendliness.” In this post, learn 5 key steps to take to ensure any site is optimized for mobile users.

Step 1: Use Google’s mobile friendliness checker as a starting point.

Google’s famous browser algorithm now places “mobile friendliness” right up there at the top as one of its most important determinants of search engine browser rankings. What this means is that if a website is not mobile friendly, its link is likely to be buried down at the bottom of Google’s browser results.

Google has offered a free Mobile Friendly Test tool to help webmasters and web hosting resellers determine whether a site is mobile friendly according to Google’s algorithm. Not only will this tool quickly evaluate a website for mobile friendliness, but it will also as quickly report back on potential problems or errors that may be interfering with a site’s overall score.

Step 2: Simplify, simplify and simplify some more.

One of the keys to developing a mobile friendly website is to think like a mobile user. A mobile user is typically going to conduct a browser search for information in a short window of time – perhaps for the five minutes while they are waiting in line or stuck at a traffic light.

As such, a mobile user wants to find the exact information they are looking for as quickly as possible. They don’t want to read lots of text or wait for complex graphics to load on a website. They want to get to their desired destination, finish their business and be on their way. So the simpler the website’s architecture, navigation and page layout is, the better it will perform with mobile users.

Step 3: Follow Google’s outline for mobile friendly optimization.

Google has outlined a series of optimization tips designed to help any website developer improve any site’s mobile friendliness score. These tips are the results of an intensive mobile user focus group including iPhone and Android users, so they come right from the “horse’s mouth,” so to speak.

Here are some of the main tips offered:

  • Make the search function easy to find right from the home page.
  • Balance special promotions with regular site features.
  • Take care when asking for a user’s location or requiring membership registration (even if it is free) – mobile users often don’t want to take time for either.
  • Make browsing and buying secure yet easy by always offering a “checkout as guest” option.
  • Ensure a mobile user can finish any purchase on a larger screen device if desired.
  • Offer mobile users visual tools to make completing online forms easy (i.e. calendar date pickers, content pre-population, et al).
  • Opt for a responsive layout that automatically adjusts the website for screen size.
  • Don’t require opening multiple windows on small screen devices.
  • Make small size images expandable for mobile.
  • Make orientation suggestions (i.e. portrait, landscape) automatically.

Step 4: Don’t forget about page loading times!

An essential aspect of mobile friendliness is fast load times. If a site fails to fully populate on a small screen device in four seconds or less, an estimated 25 percent of users will already be gone and on to the next (hopefully faster loading) website. Mobile users are too time-crunched to have any patience with slow-to-load sites….and

Google won’t treat that site well either.

Luckily, Google has developed another free test tool called PageSpeed Insights that can be used to test any website’s loading speed. Using this tool delivers a website’s relative speed as a percentage of 100 and offers specific tips for how to fix slower load times in a variety of areas.

Step 5: Eliminate pop-up images, flash imagery and other interruptions to the mobile experience.

Even desktop users sometimes express frustration with having to cope with multiple pop-up images, flash-based introductions and too-complex landing pages. Mobile users have no patience for these types of interruptions and will quickly navigate away from a site that attempts to redirect them from their primary reason for browsing.

Even worse, since small screen smart devices come in all shapes, sizes, operating systems and storage sizes, some such devices may not even have the necessary plugins to operate tools like Flash, which means the site may not load properly from the get-go for some mobile users.

And since a “small screen” device can range from a tiny pocket-sized phone to a tablet, you want to try to optimize tappable or interactive graphics to be accessible on any screen size. If interactive graphics are too tiny on the smallest screen devices, a mobile user may not even be able to tap them successfully on the first try, which nearly guarantees they will assume the site is not loading properly and will then navigate away.

Optimizing a website for the most mobile friendly experience is not rocket science, but it does take some careful planning and meticulous testing to ensure that all small screen users will have a quick and effective experience.

By using Google’s free mobile friendliness and page load speed testing tools, experiencing the site on mobile devices with multiple screen sizes, gathering feedback from actual users and continuing to simplify, it is possible to greatly improve a site’s performance in Google search rankings and for mobile users themselves.