Person using cell phone at the beach, taking a picture of the ocean.

The Pressure from Google to Be “Mobile First”


Ever since Google announced its preference for “mobile first” web pages and applications for search engine query results, the crowd of companies wanting to remain competitive rushed for site audits and mobile design assistance.

During the last half of 2016, and especially when the more pressing crush of audits ensued in the last quarter, I was unable to pass a single website that I audited for mobile readiness. There was no website designed for mobile usability with people. They may have passed the 4 test criteria required by Google and Bing’s mobile test tools, but the mistake is assuming that pages passing search engine indexing mobile algorithm requirements automatically pass human requirements.

Not a single website was ready to meet user expectations on mobile devices. My Christmas gift to most clients was to recommend a redesign. That advice included my own websites and every site that I designed and manage. It was bad news for ecommerce sites, local business sites, online directories, healthcare, services in verticals like construction, legal services, real estate, and individual blogs from people who simply love to write.

What Just Happened?

The fire that Google lit under web site owners was met with resistance, scoffing, denial and confusion. If you are not immersed in the search engine marketing industry, you may not be aware that the world’s largest search engine pulled a pole reversal and the axis flipped so that desktop versions and alternate domains, such as versions for mobile and versions for desktop, are out of favor. Google claims that over half of its search queries are from people using their cell phone. They either type in the request, or use voice search. Gone are the jacked up dual gigantic LED monitors attached to the monster computer drive humming on the floor. Gone are hauling around 3 pound laptops, finding outlets to keep them charged and hoping to find a fast connection so you can find the nearest clothing store because your luggage never arrived where you did when you fly.

Who types anymore? We talk to computerized voice searches at the dinner table when we want to win a family debate. We gab to our friends while driving the car using Bluetooth and hiding the phone from the policeman parked on the side of the road. There are even pockets for cell phones that you can attach to saddles when you ride your horse. We search when we want, where we want.

Because our customers and web site visitors expect fast, accessible, easy and usable, every website and application had to stop doing what it was doing, because when you and I were watching Star Wars and Vikings, somebody changed the technology on us. And Google is a tease.

As of now, this month of January, if your website is not user friendly on mobile devices, and your competitors’ web sites are, guess which one Google will rank first? If you never made any changes and remain in desktop design-land, you can stay there, but measure the risk. The competitor in your space that rewrote the code for mobile will get your traffic and if they designed for conversions, the revenue and subscriptions you dream of. If your competitor rewrote the code for mobile and accessibility, they were granted access to Google heaven, because the code on their pages translates to, “We love rank and especially usability and accessibility for everyone regardless of what computer device they are using, or where they are, what they are doing, or how they are doing it.”

If you own a website and ignore the needs of the people intended to use it, you are wasting your time and money. You are not alone. It’s going to be a fun year, especially if you ignored the warnings by SEO’s or didn’t hire web designers who keep up with design standards.

Common Issues That Throttle Mobile User Experience

You don’t want to see my list. It’s quite long and keeps growing. This is because I test websites for a living. I also research user behavior, follow digital marketing trends, and try things out so that I feel more confident about making recommendations. Yes, I’ve blown up my own website more than once. Yes, I have a test server. I also have many friends who are very smart.

What wrecks your web page or application’s performance on mobile devices?

Poor layout.
That insane symbol for navigation called a “hamburger”.
Color contrasts.
Moving objects.
Endless scrolling.
Poor stacking.
Tap sizes.
Font sizes.

And the winner is…
Hiding the thing your visitors came for.

Sadly, that last one is the same top problem for desktop designs too. On a teeny tiny screen, hiding your main call to action is akin to burying the ketchup bottle in the fridge when its hamburger night for dinner. Somebody is going to whine.

You can wait and not do anything. If your target users don’t meet “mobile first” requirements now, you may believe you have wiggle room to put this off. Consider the risk to your bottom line. Listen to your usability person. She will tell you that your competition is already testing and redesigning. Who cares about being a Google “mobile first” darling? You want to be user first, and that means keeping up to date on all the latest technology, code changes, device advances, accessibility enhancements and outsmarting your competition with an outstanding user experience, user tested design that works on all computer devices.

She asks for a lot, doesn’t she?