What Google’s Algorithm Change Means for Library Websites
On April 21, Google changed its algorithm to give preference to mobile-friendly sites on searches performed on mobile devices. This means that sites that aren’t designated as “mobile-friendly” by Google sink to the bottom in mobile search results while sites that do pass the test appear toward the top. Dubbed “Mobilegeddon” by the technology press, this indexing change struck fear into businesses and organizations that haven’t yet optimized their sites for mobile. But realistically, your library can weather Mobilegeddon if it has the right tools, knowledge, and planning in place.
What Makes a Site “Mobile-Friendly”
So what exactly qualifies as “mobile-friendly?” If you’ve ever tried to navigate a site on your smartphone that isn’t optimized for mobile, you may have experienced the frustration of not being able to read text because it’s too small or accidentally clicking on the wrong link. These are two of the elements Google checks: text size and link distance.
The other element Google checks is your site’s mobile viewport configuration. A viewport determines how a webpage is displayed on a mobile device. Without a viewport, mobile devices will display your page at desktop width, scaled to fit the screen, making it a pain to navigate. A responsive, mobile-friendly website has different layouts for different screen sizes: from large tablets to smartphones with 4-inch displays.
How to Check the Mobile-Friendliness of Your Site
If you’re not sure where your website stands in mobile-friendliness, Google helpfully provides you with a few free tools:
- You can also test individual pages using Google’s Mobile-Friendly test, which analyzes your page’s URL and reports if it has a mobile-friendly design.
- Google’s Mobile Usability feature, part of the Webmaster toolset, can help you identify mobile usability issues with your site.
- Fetch as Google lets you see your web pages the way Google’s smartphone crawler would.
- Chrome’s Device Mode and Mobile Emulation tool lets you check your mobile website’s responsiveness across various screen sizes, and assess its performance across varying connection speeds.
- If you need further assistance or explanation, you can always ask questions (and find answers!) at Google’s Webmaster Central Help Forum.
How Your Content Management System Can Help
Many content management systems (CMSes), including library-specific CMSes, offer some sort of toolset or themes to help you take your site mobile. WordPress, for example, offers WPtouch, a plug-in that automatically enables a mobile theme for visitors reaching you by way of their phones. Drupal, an open source CMS, offers mobile-friendly themes for your website. Google has a helpful guide for optimizing your Drupal site for mobile. Sites built with LibGuides are responsive out of the box so you don’t have to do any of the work to ensure your site displays correctly on all devices.
Google’s ever-changing search and indexing algorithms can be frustrating to deal with. But this particular change should serve as a nudge to start thinking about a mobile strategy for your library’s website. As nearly two-thirds of American adults own a smartphone (Pew Research Center), it is becoming increasingly important to reach your patrons wirelessly. By beginning the mobile optimization process, you will not only stay ahead of the Google game, but you’ll also better serve your smartphone-carrying patrons.
Tags: algorithms, content management system, Drupal, Google, Internet Searching, LibGuides, mobile, Mobilegeddon, pew study on mobile phone usage, search engines, technology in libraries, website usability, Wordpress