Google has warned you – now it’s crunch time!

This is crunch time for your web site. Google has just put everybody on one month’s notice to get their sites up-to-date or else loose their ranking.

Google has confirmed that your web ranking will be in jeopardy by sending out emails such as this one pertaining to one of my clients site where they explain: “Google systems have tested 19 pages from your site and found that 100 per cent of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors on these 19 pages severely affect how mobile users are able to experience your website. These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smart phone users.”

Wow! Now this is something I have written about several times in recent articles which have stressed the need to have a fluid site that is scaleable to suit all mobile devices. Scalability also refers to the various components such as images, navigation and its ability to know which browser on what kind of device is rendering your site.

Google has muted this change in policy for some considerable time now.

Why is all that so? People are forsaking their desk top computers in favour of their smart phones or tablets to visit the Internet to serve their need. Be those the purchase of a dress, a pair of shoes or the tour or accommodation for the next holiday.

The significant phrase of their email is: ” ranked appropriately for smart phone users.”

As we have spoken about in recent times some 80 per cent of web traffic, with particular emphasis on purchase commitments, is via portable device with traffic peaking around seven o’clock in the evening. People have perhaps finished their dinner, are watching the news on TV and simultaneously surfing the web on their mobiles. One has to remember that Google has remained consistent and always continued to emphasise that their unwavering aim was to serve the user with the most relevant and best content on a given topic defined by their search terms used.

So what are the issues that bring a web site to Google’s attention?

The first and foremost complaint would be that the view port is not configured. All that means is that your web pages lack the code that defines how a browser will know how big the viewing area is; more simply, the screen size into which your pages must fit without the need for horizontal scrolling.

The second item on their misdemeanour list would be text size. I am sure you have by now seen some web sites or emails on your mobiles where the text is so small the you have to zoom to make things legible. That however means that you have to constantly jiggle across the screen to see the whole width of the document. That effect is almost the first step in fluid design so that things automatically fit on whatever screen you are viewing.

From there the requirements become unique to mobile devices. The touch elements, meaning the buttons and links and the like which have to be touched on the screen to navigate the site. They usually finish up too small or are too close together, at times overlapping, to make it easy to activate them. That is one of my personal gripes because my fingers do not always “fit” on the screen.

The next item on Google’s list would most probably be content elements not fitting on the screen. Besides text, images are the obvious candidates here. From a designers point of view some thought is needed here. To scale a single image is elementary. But to scale a slide show is a lot trickier, especially if fancy effects are called for. In like vein it is one thing to have a number of images laid out horizontally on a PC. To have them render in sequence vertically down a smart phone screen is tricky and trickier still if one thinks of a tablet where some things can remain on the horizontal plane.

The use of various audio-video elements can also be a vexing issue. Things get quite complicated as problems in that regard can also be device and operating system dependent. One such element is Flash which has been in use for years, yet much of it’s features can now be duplicated using modern coding practices.

The list is extensive but other aspects sink into the technical jargon quagmire. You most probably will not be doing any redesign work yourself and will leave this as a task for your webmaster.

But before you rush off and start worrying about new expenses I would suggest that you sit down at your desktop with a tablet and a smart phone along side and view your own web site on each of these devices. Remember to view your site in both portrait and landscape mode. If you do not have these devices just change the size of your browser window by dragging it into various sizes. That is a reasonable test that will also quickly highlight most of the issues you may have.

Bear in mind that besides mobile usability Google is also attempting to ensure that issues for the physically impaired are addressed as much as possible.

If you have any doubt as to what I am prattling on about you could visit a site that demonstrates most of the issues spoken about here despite it still being under modification. It is a local industry site

The site, with one unimportant exception, complies fully with all current standards and has been given a clean slate by Google. It will give you a clear picture of how different elements behave on different devices. Note particularly how the ubiquitous horizontal navigation system changes to cope with small viewing ports. Similarly note how adjacent horizontal elements rearrange and shrink into a vertical structure on small screen devices.

Because only four weeks final notice was given by Google this article will arrive a little late to give you useful warning. Google however insists, in the nicest terms, that they have been prodding all webmasters about this for quite a long time.

If your site is quite old this may be a great reason to have a review of its design and content besides importantly protecting your business. I look forward to a whole array of great sites springing to life.

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