What is “Optimizing for Mobile”?

In 2014 mobile device use exceeded desktop use worldwide. Early in 2015, Google announced that it would begin penalizing websites severely for failing their Mobile-Friendly Test. If your site fails, you can expect your search engine results to drop accordingly.

Already in 2016, the term “mobile-device” has itself become a hazy term associated with almost any screen size from watches on up. But for the purposes of this article, “mobile” will refer to any screen not traditionally associated with a desktop monitor.

“Mobile Friendly” is about more than just making your site visible on mobile devices. There is some confusion – and certainly some laziness – surrounding the term “Mobile Friendly”, so I prefer to use “mobile-optimized”.

Let’s first take a look at what it does not mean:

  1. It does not mean that if you can view your site on a smart phone, it is mobile-optimized. Certain criteria like text size, spaces between menu buttons (for human-sized fingers), and fitting content onto the screen are important usability characteristics that make a site optimal for user experience.
  2. It does not mean that if an image fits on the screen it is necessarily optimized for mobile use. Large images that are re-sized to fit the screen still take considerable time to download. Those images need to be optimized using an image optimizer tool (there are several online). Photoshop and GIMP work nicely.
  3. It does not mean that just because you have an “m” in front of your domain name (eg. m.yoursite.com) your site is now optimized for handhelds. Sites created with a separate url for mobile devices can have just as many problems as sites without the “m.”

Conversely, here are some things mobile-optimized does mean:

  1. It does mean the user does not have to scroll sideways to get to critical information.
  2. It does mean that people with fat fingers can still use buttons and access hyperlinks easily.
  3. It does mean that non-essential data is removed from small screen presentations or moved toward the bottom so that the user will see the most important information first.
  4. It also means that any rich medium which can be experienced on desktops also functions on smaller devices. (Beware of using Flash as a significant content delivery method).
  5. Last but certainly not least, it definitely means that code and rich media (images/video/audio/animations) are pared to their smallest possible delivery size and, preferably, served from a CDN (content delivery network). This allows data to flow in asynchronously (multiple streams), thus delivering your data much faster.

Besides the Google mobile-friendly test mentioned above, I recommend subjecting your url to PageSpeed and YSlow through GTMetrix.com. While the results may be disturbing, at least you’ll know where you stand (similar to balancing our bank account for most of us). Knowledge is power and…you do want a good score, don’t you? 🙂