April 21 marks the beginning of a new, more mobile-focused era for the Google algorithm.

With more and more web searches being done on mobile devices (in the final quarter of 2014, 29% of all U.S. search queries were made on mobile devices), it’s only logical that Google made a move to help mobile users find websites that offer a good user experience. The change, which was heralded as being “bigger than Panda or Penguin” by Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Zineb Ait Bahajji, will only impact results from Google searches that take place on smartphones.

Unfortunately, small businesses are at greater risk to take a hit from the updated algorithm, as they are less likely than larger corporations to have already had a mobile-friendly website infrastructure in place. Most major companies have had mobile-optimized websites for some time. Many small businesses, on the other hand, have never even considered optimizing their site.

Google first announced the impending update in February, so hopefully you’ve already optimized your website. If you’ve been putting off updating your site or are just learning about the new algorithm, here’s a crash course of what you need to do to make sure you aren’t losing traffic because of a poor mobile experience.

Check To See If Your Website Is Mobile-Friendly

Google’s free “Mobile-Friendly Test” will analyze your website and report back if it has a mobile-friendly design. Hopefully, you’ll see a message like this and you can stop reading this post (it’s ok, we won’t be mad).

Mobile Friendly Test

If you’re still with us, we’ll venture to guess your website didn’t perform so well on the mobile-friendly test. Don’t panic. With the feedback Google provided you in their report about why you aren’t mobile-friendly in mind, you can begin to fix your site. Here are the things you should focus on to help get your site in tip-top shape:

Determine Your Mobile Configuration (Hint: It Should Be Responsive)

There are three different ways to create a mobile website: responsive web design, dynamic serving and separate URLS. Responsive web design is the best design pattern (and the one Google recommends) for mobile websites.

Unlike dynamic serving, which requires different HTML from your desktop site along with separate URLs which require an entirely new URL on top of new HTML, responsive design allows your desktop website to render properly on different mobile devices without using a different URL or code.

If you are responsible for updating your website and are new to responsive design, Google has a nice primer here to get you started.

Get Rid Of The Things That Make Visitng Websites On Mobile Awful

Video not playable on mobile? Come on.

Links on your mobile website direct users to the desktop version? Who designed this thing?

Pages loading slowly? You know what, I didn’t want to look at your website that badly, anyway.

If you’ve ever been in the position of trying to use a website on mobile and ran into one of the above situations, you can sympathize with the reasons why mobile visitors will leave a website. If your website isn’t easy to use, your visitors will look elsewhere for the information they were searching for. Sort of defeats the purpose of investing in a website, right?

Fixing the above issues will not only boost your mobile conversion rates, but it will help your mobile site rank higher.

You must also make your website easily viewable as-is: that means no zooming in, no struggling to click on the right link, and no unnecessary scrolling. Per Google:

A page is eligible for the “mobile-friendly” label if it meets the following criteria as detected by Googlebot:

  • Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
  • Uses text that is readable without zooming
  • Sizes content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
  • Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped

Allow Google To Read Your CSS And JavaScript Files

In order for Google to read your website the same way one of your visitors would, it needs access to your CSS, Javascript and image files. Googlebots don’t have eyes (yet), so even if your website appears to be mobile-friendly when you view it on your phone, Google won’t be able to confirm its friendliness unless it can read those files.

Make sure your robots.txt file doesn’t block the crawling of these files. You can check to see if it is allowing crawling here. If the file is blocking crawling, you can change that by using the “Fetch as Google” feature in Google Webmaster Tools.

The importance of updating your website to be mobile-friendly can’t be overstated. You could lose a notable portion of business simply because mobile users didn’t see your website listed in Google. Even if you can’t make all of your changes right away, update as much as you can as soon as possible.

Did your website pass the mobile-friendly test? What do you need to do in order to ensure your website isn’t penalized by the new algorithm? Let us know in the comments!