Google recently announced that it will be expanding “mobile friendliness” as a ranking factor for searches conducted on mobile.

As Google explains, the change — which goes into effect on April 21 — will have a significant impact on mobile search results:

“Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”

Since the announcement, there have been a lot of questions asked about what site owners need to do to get ready, and how the changes will impact traffic to their site.

To answer some of those questions, I sat down with Peter Hughes, senior manager of search marketing at Constant Contact.

I asked Peter for his perspective on a number of topics related to the most recent news from Google, to see if he had any advice for businesses trying to prepare.

Here’s what he had to say:

Peter Hughes, Senior Manager of Search Marketing, Constant Contact

Peter Hughes, Senior Manager of Search Marketing, Constant Contact

Could you provide a quick overview of the changes that will go into effect on April 21?

As of April 21, Google will seek to prioritize mobile-friendly websites in its search results.

Ultimately, the “mobile friendliness” of a site will represent a significant influence on the ranking algorithm that Google uses to show results to searchers. This could be to the extent that websites not deemed mobile friendly may not even be eligible to rank in mobile search results.

In addition, “Mobile Friendly” labels will be placed next to results whose websites are mobile friendly, which gives users insight before clicking on a result whether the website is designed to work on mobile.

There are a lot of terms out there related to mobile, has Google provided any insight into what factors they consider when they determine a page to be “mobile friendly”?

Broadly, there are two buckets of “mobile-friendly websites,” these being responsive design and mobile-specific sites.

A responsive design generally takes all the features and content of your standard website and instructs the mobile device on how to display it appropriately given the screen size. Think about how this would make your website display correctly across computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

Conversely, mobile sites (sites created specifically for mobile devices) tend to have less content, a different navigation system, or other unique mobile-only options.

What do you expect the impact of these changes will be?

An important distinction in this is that Google’s algorithm is still evaluating results at the page level, not the site-wide level.

This means that if certain pages on your site are mobile friendly then those pages are, all things being equal, still likely to rank even if other pages on your site are not mobile friendly.

In reality, though, think about this change as being designed to drive an improved user experience when searchers click through to a site. Google essentially wants to reduce the friction that comes with going from a listing that “looks” perfect for a user on the results page but, upon landing, the user has to pinch and zoom and wait for the screen to catch up with the column you are reading.

The change could also sometimes create significant disparities between the results you see when searching on your desktop compared to when you search on mobile.

If you don’t have a mobile-ready site then you may not be eligible to appear in mobile listings even if your website occupies a strong position on desktop results pages.

The longer-term impact of this is likely to be a renewed prioritization of mobile’s importance from website owners, especially as traffic via mobile continues to grow.

The use of mobile has been ramping up for quite some time now, why do you think Google has decided to introduce these changes at this time?

As Google often does, this has been in a testing phase for a while.

The real difference is the fact that a website that’s not friendly to mobile may be ranked lower specifically because it’s not mobile friendly.

To some extent, the timing may be a little bit of a tipping point for Google. Increasingly across specific categories of search, mobile has surpassed desktop but in general mobile can sometimes be treated as a secondary source of traffic by website owners.

Google is trying to make clear that its users are often mobile-first or even mobile-only and that websites need to follow suit to deliver the right context to searchers.

How can a business tell if their page is mobile friendly?

The easiest way is to test your URL via Google’s own tool. This tool will give you a report on mobile-friendliness and opportunities for improvement.

Another way to test is to put yourself in the position of your customers and visit your site on a mobile device.

Record your own experience.

What’s the load time? Do you have to pinch and zoom to access content? Is it difficult to click around? Does it make for a suboptimal experience?

Do you have any advice for businesses whose website isn’t mobile friendly?

It sounds obvious, but if you want to make sure that you sustain or grow your rankings on Google, start to think in terms of mobile.

There is bite-sized opportunity because individual pages are being evaluated rather than entire sites. If you have no mobile-friendly pages, prioritize some of the high value pages on your site and make them mobile friendly.

A slimmed down mobile site, though requiring work, is better than no mobile site at all and will help to meet the context of your users.

If you’re a restaurant, for example, consider making your homepage and menu mobile friendly to start with.

Are there any additional steps you’d recommend to prepare for the change?

It’s an evolving landscape so continue your education and make the long-term choices that are right for you and your business.

Does a mobile-only site make sense or can you implement a responsive site?

These decisions aren’t made in a vacuum of course as there are costs and development associated with the creation of new sites.

It’s safe to assume that a good portion of your customers or prospective customers will engage (or are already engaging) with you on mobile; this isn’t only a conversation about ranking opportunity on mobile, but also delivering an experience for people who come to your site directly or are repeat customers.

We’ll continue to monitor this change and keep you up-to-date.

In the meantime, think about some of the changes you can start making on your site today.

This could mean putting a plan in place to revamp your entire website to function better in an increasingly mobile world. Or it could mean identifying those important pages on your site that you want to show up in search results, and making the necessary tweaks to have them function on mobile.

To test any of your pages, make sure to use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. Simply copy and paste your URL into the tool and Google will provide feedback.

Need help making changes to your website? We can help connect you with a consultant in your area. We partner with qualified experts throughout North America who specialize in small business marketing.

Visit our service matching page to learn more.

Have other questions for Peter? Let us know in the comments below.