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.

Encouraged by the industry

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 events forced anyone who had been ignoring mobile optimisation to sit up and take notice, as there was no doubt: for a website to rank highly, it must provide a good experience for mobile users.

Mobile browsing has now beaten out desktop browsing worldwide, and the trend towards mobile is unstoppable. Not only do many users prefer using their highly mobile smartphones and tablets over a desktop computer, but for many across the world, the mobile device is their sole point of internet access. Being relatively affordable and self-contained, many people rely on mobile devices to operate in their daily lives.

Putting mobile first

Google is driving a focus on ‘mobile-first indexing’ in its search engine results. Recognising that the majority of its users are on mobile devices, Google now looks primarily at mobile versions of websites when ranking them in search results. Since being introduced, this method of search indexing has had a huge effect on mobile-friendly sites, as site owners try to keep themselves high in the rankings – reports show that around 75% of websites are mobile-friendly. Many websites are now built mobile-first, then adapted to be desktop-friendly, rather than the other way around.

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. Some legacy websites may also not translate easily to a responsive design.

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 Web Hosting, Dedicated Server or CloudNX cloud hosting platforms with a full range of professional features and tools. Our Website Builder and Ecommerce Website 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.