How to prep, in 7 steps, for Google's mobile search change

Here's what to do before Google's mobile-friendly algorithm kicks in April 21

With Google about to make a change that will affect how websites are ranked in its mobile search results, now is the time for companies to make sure their websites don't sink to the bottom of the pile.

On April 21, Google is changing the algorithm for its mobile search, placing websites that are deemed "mobile friendly" higher in mobile search rankings.

It also means that websites that have had high rankings in search results could lose their prominent positions if they are not optimized for mobile devices.

"This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results," the company noted in a blog post . "Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high-quality search results that are optimized for their devices."

For companies that have put off updating their websites to make them mobile friendly, now is the time to get those changes made.

"I would recommend that any site that relies on Google searches for business become mobile friendly as soon as possible," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "The search ranking for a company is hugely important in many industries, and slipping off the first page, or even the first third of the first page, can significantly dent the top and bottom line. Better to fix your site now than be surprised by a drop in sales later."

Companies also need to make sure their websites fall under Google's definition of mobile friendly.

"This could dramatically change search results in some cases," said Olds. "It might allow a mobile-optimized second-tier player to get a jump on larger competitors who have not configured their site for mobile yet. Where your company is placed on a search result can be the difference between making a sale versus coming up short."

So for companies getting started, here's what they should focus on.

1. Google's Mobile-Friendly Test

You need to figure out how your website fits in being optimized for mobile devices. Take Google's Mobile-Friendly Test. Simply drop in your url and hit "Analyze." If you get the message, "Awesome! This page is mobile friendly," then you've done your mobile work already. You can relax, for now.

However, if you get a message that says, "Not mobile friendly," then Google will provide some direction in what needs to be done. Google may offer suggestions for enlarging text that's too small to read on a device, for sprucing up links that are too close together or ensuring that the mobile viewport is set.

Google mobile site test Google

Website operators can check to see whether their site is considered mobile friendly by Google.

2. Pagespeed Insights

If the Mobile-Friendly Test shows that you have some work to do, follow the link to Pagespeed Insights. This page shows what needs to be fixed on a website, and tips on how to fix them. It also shows examples of problems by highlighting different areas of your website as seen on a mobile device.

Even if your site is rated mobile friendly, the pagespeed analysis has suggestions for making your web pages load faster.

3. Improve your website

If the Mobile-Friendly Test found that you have work to do on your site, Google offers suggestions from that results page. On the right side of that page, you'll find links to help if you used a CMS (content management system), if someone built the website for you or if you built the website yourself.

If you built the website yourself, for instance, Google notes, "Let's make sure your site shows up in search results. In these sections, learn to configure your site for multiple devices, help search engines understand your configuration, and avoid common mistakes along the way."

It then shows how to choose a mobile configuration, signal your configuration to search engines, and configure your site for other devices.

However, if you used a CMS, Google will give instructions based on the software – say WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger or Joomla! – you used. The site walks you through an update, offering step-by-step help, such as updating your version of WordPress or adopting a responsive Web design .

4. Google's Usability Report

If you run your site, you can use Google's Webmaster Tools to check your site using the company's Mobile Usability Report for its own set of update recommendations.

Google notes that the tool identifies pages on your site that are having severe usability problems for mobile visitors. You can use the tool to diagnose and fix errors for specific pages and improve their search performance and relevance.

The tool also offers creates a graph to monitor your efforts in getting rid of the issues that keeping your site from being mobiel friendly.. Follow the graph to see how much improvement you're making.

5. Do a search

Of course, another method of checking your site is to do a search for it from a mobile device. If you do a Google search from your smartphone or tablet, you hopefully will see that the search result gets a "Mobile-friendly" label.

If you see the label, which would sit right under the url, then you are good to go. If not, you have more work to do.

6. Check now, check later

It would be smart to monitor where your website sits in mobile search result rankings now and compare it to its position once the new algorithm is working. It also wouldn't hurt to check your ranking position for several weeks after the rollout.

Also check your website's search results ranking on non-mobile devices. Google has noted that a site could be downgraded across the board.

If, for instance, a website isn't mobile-friendly and drops in mobile search rankings, it may also drop in desktop rankings, too.

7. Test. Test. Test.

Of course, if you're making changes to your site, you need to test it – a lot. Don't test it once and assume you're good to go. Test repeatedly and from different kinds of devices – a desktop, and variety of smartphones and tablets.

Also make sure that your big changes and small tweaks are working across all platforms.

"If you still do not have a responsively designed/mobile-friendly website, you better get on it, and get on it fast," said Collin Colburn, an analyst at Forrester. "But this is something that you should have -- if you have not already -- been working on."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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