Google has been making tons of announcements and doing a good deal of testing on mobile usability and mobile friendliness recently. So an announcement last week shouldn't come as a surprise: they will be making mobile friendliness a ranking factor on April 21.
While no one should be thrown for a loop, they should be aware of and prepared for this change. It's a big deal! One that could have a major impact on mobile visibility and traffic if a site doesn't pass Google's mobile friendly test. This alone is concerning, as Matt Cutts predicted that mobile search would overtake desktop in 2014 (no data yet to confirm that it actually happened though). But, right now, Google does not have separate indexes for mobile and desktop. That means, what happen on mobile may impact desktop, and vice versa. Therefore, it's possible that if you're dinged for not being mobile friendly, you'll see the repercussions not just on mobile results but on desktop, too.
So how can you prepare? Follow these four tips:
1. Make Sure Your Site Is Mobile Friendly
I know, I know. Duh. But I certainly can't stress this enough, and wanted to address how you make your site mobile friendly. Google has been pushing for responsive design, but this isn't critical to be label mobile friendly. You can have a separate mobile version of your site and still pass their test. However, we still recommend using responsive design because it creates a seamless experience across all devices and reduces the resources required for maintenance of your site.
2. Not Just a Few Pages, I Mean Every Page of the Entire Site
Google will be grading mobile friendliness on a page-by-page basis. So if even one page of your site isn't mobile friendly, the entire site could get dinged. So don't just focus on a few key pages to make mobile friendly, do it for the entire site.
UPDATE: After further research, we have determined this is not true. Each page is tested on a page-by-page basis, but if one page doesn't pass, only that page will be affected, not the entire site. So if you can only focus on a few pages, make sure they are the most important ones for your site (homepage, top category pages, etc.).
4. Test Your Progress And Make Adjustments As Needed
Google has created two new tools allowing you to evaluate the current mobile-friendliness of your site, and make changes if necessary. The tools are: Mobile Usability Reports and a Mobile Testing Tool. Bookmark these. Use them. Get super friendly with mobile.
If your site is responsive and you are still not passing Google's tests, it may be that your Robots.txt file is blocking content that is necessary for mobile. The Testing Tool will tell you have many files are being blocked, and you'll need to evaluate your Robots.txt file to determine which ones might be causing the issue.
For years, Google's mantra has been "mobile-first." They've launched mobile-focused features, released new mobile ad products, developed mobile apps, and completely overhauled their algorithm to make way for voice search. This is just another step with their mobile foot forward. This time, however, Google has kindly alerted us to the change in advance, allowing sites to prepare and optimize. So, take advantage of this atypical warning and don't procrastinate! Go make sure your site will pass Google's mobile friendly test now.