Google em­braces ‘mo­bile-friendly’ sites in shake-up


Google is about to change the way its in­flu­en­tial search en­gine rec­om­mends web­sites on smartphones and tablets in a shift that’s ex­pected to sway where mil­lions of peo­ple shop, eat and find in­for­ma­tion.

The re­vised for­mula, sched­uled to be re­leased Tues­day, will fa­vor web­sites that Google de­fines as “mo­bile-friendly.” Web­sites that don’t fit the de­scrip­tion will be de­moted in Google’s search re­sults on smartphones and tablets while those meet­ing the cri­te­ria will be more likely to ap­pear at the top of the rank­ings — a prized po­si­tion that can trans­late into more vis­i­tors and money.

Although Google’s new for­mula won’t af­fect searches on desk­top and lap­top com­put­ers, it will have a huge in­flu­ence on how and where peo­ple spend their money, given that more peo­ple are re­ly­ing on their smartphones to com­pare prod­ucts in stores and look for restau­rants. That’s why Google’s new rat­ing sys­tem is be­ing billed by some search ex­perts as “Mobilegeddon.”

“Some sites are go­ing to be in for a big sur­prise when they find a dras­tic change in the amount of peo­ple vis­it­ing them from mo­bile de­vices,” said Itai Sadan, CEO of web­site-build­ing ser­vice Duda.

It’s prob­a­bly the most sig­nif­i­cant change that Google Inc. has ever made to its mo­bile search rank­ings, ac­cord­ing to Matt McGee, edi­tor-in-chief for Search En­gine Land, a trade pub­li­ca­tion that fol­lows ev­ery tweak that the com­pany makes to its closely guarded al­go­rithms.

Here are a few things to know about what’s hap­pen­ing and why Google is do­ing it.

Mak­ing Mo­bile Friends

To stay in Google’s good graces, web­sites must be de­signed so they load quickly on mo­bile de­vices. Con­tent must also be eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble by scrolling up and down — with­out hav­ing to also swipe to the left or right. It also helps if all but­tons for mak­ing pur­chases or tak­ing other ac­tions on the web­site can be eas­ily seen and touched on smaller screens.

If a web­site has been de­signed only with PC users in mind, the graph­ics take longer to load on mo­bile de­vices and the col­umns of text don’t all fit on the smaller screens, to the ag­gra­va­tion of some­one try­ing to read it.

Google has been urg­ing web­sites to cater to mo­bile de­vice for years, mainly be­cause that is where peo­ple are in­creas­ingly search­ing for in­for­ma­tion.

The num­ber of mo­bile searches in the U.S. is ris­ing by about 5 per­cent while in­quiries on PCs are dip­ping slightly, ac­cord­ing to re­search firm comS­core Inc. In the fi­nal three months of last year, 29 per­cent of all U.S. search re­quests — about 18.5 bil­lion — were made on mo­bile de­vices, comS­core es­ti­mated. Google pro­cesses the bulk of searches — two-thirds in the U.S. and even

more in many other coun­tries.

Brac­ing for Change

To min­i­mize com­plaints, the com­pany dis­closed its plans nearly two months ago. It also cre­ated a step- by- step guide ( http:// bit. ly/ 1GyC0Id ) and a tool to test com­pli­ance with the new stan­dards ( http:// bit. ly/ 1EVi9R3 ).

Google has faced up­roar over past changes to its search for­mula. Two of the big­ger re­vi­sions, done in 2011 and 2012, fo­cused on an at­tempt to weed out mis­lead­ing web­sites and other dig­i­tal rub­bish. Although that goal sounds rea­son­able, many web­sites still com­plained that Google’s changes un­fairly de­moted them in the rank­ings, mak­ing their con­tent

more dif­fi­cult to find.

Still Caught off Guard

While most ma­jor mer­chants and big com­pa­nies al­ready have web­sites likely to meet Google’s mo­bile stan­dard, the new for­mula threat­ens to hurt mil­lions of small busi­nesses that haven’t had the money or in­cen­tive to adapt their sites for smartphones.

“A lot of small sites haven’t re­ally had a rea­son to be mo­bile friendly un­til now, and it’s not go­ing to be easy for them to make the changes,” McGee said.

Bury­ing Help­ful Con­tent

Google’s search for­mula weighs a va­ri­ety of fac­tors to de­ter­mine the rank­ings of its re­sults. One of the most im­por­tant considerations has al­ways been whether a site con­tains the most per­ti­nent in­for­ma­tion sought by a search re­quest.

But new peck­ing or­der in Google’s mo­bile search may rel­e­gate some sites to the back pages of the search re­sults, even if their con­tent is more rel­e­vant to a search re­quest than other sites that hap­pen to be eas­ier to ac­cess on smartphones.

That will be an un­for­tu­nate con­se­quence, but also jus­ti­fi­able be­cause a per­son might not even bother to look at sites that take a long time to open or dif­fi­cult to read on mo­bile de­vices, Gart­ner an­a­lyst Whit An­drews said.

“Avail­abil­ity is part of rel­e­vancy,” An­drews said. “A lot of peo­ple aren’t go­ing to think some­thing is rel­e­vant if they can’t get it to ap­pear on their iPhone.”

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