Once again it’s time to talk about an upcoming Google algorithm update and this time the focus is on ‘mobile friendly’ websites. Set April 21st on your calendars because after this date Google will favour mobile optimised websites for searches made from mobile devices.

It’s no big surprise either, as the search engine has been fine-tuning its mobile user experience for some time now. Back in November last year it introduced ‘mobile friendly’ labels for optimised websites, to help mobile searchers choose a better user experience – but this is the first time mobile optimisation will becomes a direct ranking signal.

What counts as a ‘mobile friendly’ website?

When google introduced its ‘mobile friendly’ labels back in November it offered us the following guidelines for what GoogleBot needs to detect:
• Your site doesn’t use any software with poor or no support on mobile devices – eg: Flash
• Users can read your content without having to zoom
• Users can also view your entire site without scrolling horizontally
• Links have enough space between them so users can accurately tap them on touchscreen devices

However, Google has a list of bigger demands for webmasters ahead of the algorithm update and our best indication comes from Gary Illyes, when he answered questions about the update at SMX West.

Mobile friendly is for users, not Google
News of an algorithm update that makes mobile friendly a ranking signal will no doubt have website owners everywhere jumping on mobile optimisation. Sadly, these are the website owners who are at risk of getting it wrong, because search presence shouldn’t be your priority when it comes to mobile devices.

If you haven’t already invested in mobile optimisation for the sake of your users, it’s important you don’t get caught up in talk of algorithm updates and miss the entire point. Yes, you’re about to see a drop in search results on mobile devices if your site isn’t optimised and the sooner you go mobile friendly, the better. But Google isn’t your priority here; your users are more important than anything when it comes to mobile optimisation – a point you should never lose sight of.

Focus on your users and everything else falls into place
The key to getting mobile optimisation right is focusing on your users first, and then you can follow the guidelines set out by Google. If you create the best user experience for everyone, across as many devices as possible, you won’t have any problems pleasing Google’s new algorithm update. The criteria Google sets out for classifying a mobile friendly site is nowhere near as demanding as the needs of your visitors – so put them first (as you should anyway) and everything else will fall into place.

The other side-effect of this algorithm update is web design and development agencies everywhere will be offering mobile optimisation services – especially responsive design. Look out for agencies that oversell the importance of mobile optimisation for SEO, now that it’s a ranking signal. It’s fine for an agency to mention this as one of many benefits – after all, it’s true – but you want to hire an agency that prioritises user experience in its approach to mobile optimisation.