Google Hints Mobile SEO Changes


Search Engine Land reported that Google “hopes to add mobile-specific page speed as a factor and not rely on the desktop version” when it updates its mobile-friendly algorithm.

Site speed has been a ranking factor since 2010, but Google still depends on page speed results from the desktop version of your site for both mobile and non-mobile rankings. This has always struck me as odd, since Google’s tool for measuring website performance provides results for both the desktop and mobile version of your site.

(For those who don’t know, Google has separate algorithms for its desktop (non-mobile) and mobile search results. To answer your follow-up question: no, Google does not consider tablets to be mobile devices.)

It’s no secret that Google’s primary focus for the past 5+ years has been mobile usability. Google does not crawl Flash websites since Flash isn’t compatible with most smartphones. It forced webmasters to adopt responsive design (or mobile-optimized pages, like m. sites) via “Mobilegeddon” to improve site readability on phones.

Since Google still dominates the search industry, these actions have undoubtedly increased mobile internet usage. It’s estimated that nearly 40% of all web pages will be served on mobile devices in 2016; Google’s mobile-first policies are a big reason why. These same policies enacted by Ask or AOL (which combine for less than 0.5% of the search market) wouldn’t make a dent in mobile web traffic. Same for Bing and Yahoo! (#2 and #3 in search market share, respectively). It took a powerhouse like Google to change how webmasters build websites.

So what does that mean for your site?

Well, besides the obvious (improve site speed), here are a few suggestions. First, visit our Site Speed page to see the various optimizations you can make. Then visit Google’s Mobile Website Speed Test, which measures speed and mobile-friendliness, to see where your site stacks up.

Don’t freak out if your desktop or mobile score isn’t what you wanted. Chances are these problems are fixable, and most of the cool features on modern websites impact page speed. My site, for instance, doesn’t score perfect. I know exactly where Google docks points, but the extra points aren’t worth sacrificing the functionality of my site. Here’s where I lost points:

  • Custom fonts: custom fonts always affect your score. There are common “web safe” fonts like Times, Arial, etc. that are stored on your computer and don’t need to be loaded by your server. But unless you want to use the same fonts everyone else is using, you’ll either need to use an online fontbook like Google Fonts or Adobe Typekit, or host the fonts on your server. Imagine how boring the web would be if everyone used the same fonts! I lost points here.
  • Using icons from Font Awesome: all of smaller images you see in the footer of Salty Key are loaded from Font Awesome’s CDN. These icons are SVG files and very lightweight. But they had to be loaded from an external source, you I got docked points. (Although some of them are dashicons that are already installed on WordPress) Again, the minimal effect on load time is well worth it in terms of design.
  • Using HTTPS protocol: I force HTTPS across my entire site. Thus, if someone simply types “” into their browser’s address bar, the server is going to redirect them to the HTTPS site. The redirect causes a temporary delay in page loading and Google marks me down for that. Since I want a secure connection between my server and my visitors, I’m willing to take the penalty.

A word of advice: do not become so obsessed with website speed and SEO that your site suffers in regards to design and functionality. If you find a cool image gallery plugin that you love, go ahead and use it. Sure, it probably loads its own CSS/JS files and that may cause slowdown of your site, but the purpose of your site (ultimately) is not to win Google’s SEO rankings. The purpose of your site is to sell your product and your business, and to advance your company’s cause. If Google wants to dock speed points for you to do that, then so be it.

That said, if your site enqueues a ton of JavaScript files or uses an endless number of plugins that load on the front-end, you should consider a more efficient site design. Slow load times are bad for user experience, and now it looks like it’s bad for mobile SEO as well.