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The importance of mobile optimisation

Are you mobile-friendly?

To start by stating the obvious: people love their mobile devices. We now take the widespread use of smartphones and tablets for granted, but when it comes to web browsing, their impact really can’t be understated. Over the last few years we’ve seen a number of developments that have made a mobile-friendly website absolutely critical to a successful online presence.

‘Mobilegeddon’ and beyond

In April 2015, Google released an update that changed the way websites are ranked in search results. The purpose of this was to reward mobile-friendly sites, and as a consequence, sent many less-optimised sites down in the rankings.

These dramatic events forced anyone who had been ignoring mobile optimisation to sit up and take notice. After ‘mobilegeddon’ there was no doubt: for a website to rank highly, it must provide a good experience for mobile users. And Google was just getting started.

Since then, worldwide mobile browsing has overtaken desktop for the first time. While web browsing from desktop machines is still more popular in countries like the UK, the US and Australia, PC sales are down compared to smartphones and tablets, and the trend towards mobile looks unstoppable. For a huge number of people, a smartphone is their sole point of internet access.

Putting mobile first

In this context, Google has just announced a move towards ‘mobile-first indexing’. Recognising that the majority of its users are now on mobile devices, Google has begun to look primarily at mobile versions of websites when ranking them in search results. While mobile-first is still at an experimental phase, industry experts expect to see a general roll-out in the coming months.

Ultimately, Google’s ongoing mobile focus, combined with the global shift towards mobile browsing, means that a mobile-ready site can no longer be considered a luxury or an afterthought. Mobile optimisation is now just as essential as creating a good desktop experience.

Get AMPed for a mobile future

Another element of Google’s push towards a better mobile web comes in the form of Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP. The AMP Project is an open source initiative from Google and a range of technology partners to make websites faster and easier to use for mobile users.

While the devices themselves may be user-friendly, the websites accessed on them are often frustratingly slow and clunky. The philosophy behind AMP is to do away with this by creating a common framework for fast and responsive sites that load and run quickly on mobiles.

AMP is free for anyone to implement on their site, with everything you need hosted on GitHub. It’s built around lightweight versions of normal HTML, JavaScript and CSS, and features that allow content to dynamically load in the background. Google AMP Cache also provides a content delivery network (CDN) to keep loading times to an absolute minimum.

At the moment, AMP is not an official Google ranking factor. However, that could easily change in the future, and AMP sites are given pride of place in the ‘Top stories’ section of mobile search results. AMP icons also appear throughout organic search results on mobile, giving a website a clear advantage when it comes to attracting users looking for a smooth experience.

Time to go mobile

With all this in mind, how can you ensure your website is mobile-friendly? There are several options, such as creating a separate mobile version of your site with content optimised for smaller screens. While a mobile site can be tailored for mobile users, it needs to be maintained and updated independently from the desktop version.

A popular alternative to a mobile website is an adaptive or responsive design, where your website automatically optimises itself to the size of the user's screen. With this approach, you don’t need to worry about maintaining a separate mobile website, although you will need to make sure your layout works equally well on all devices.

Google generally prefers websites with a unified desktop/mobile version, as a single URL is easier to link to and share, and only needs to be indexed once. Opting for a responsive design is also a good way to future-proof your site in the face of Google’s mobile-first approach, with a single platform that combines all your content with a mobile-ready design.

Whether you’re creating your own mobile-friendly website from scratch, or you want a quick and easy way to get started with a mobile-optimised presence, Fasthosts can help. Build your responsive site on our Cluster web hosting, dedicated server or CloudNX platforms with a full range of professional features and tools. Our Website Builder and eShop Builder packages also feature templates that automatically adapt to smartphone and tablet screens, ensuring that your business website or online shop always provides the best possible experience.

Neal Thoms's picture

Neal Thoms

Author As a content creator for Fasthosts, Neal’s main focus is cloud technology and how it’s transforming everything we do online. He’s worked in the web hosting industry for over five years.