Google’s Gary Illyes Discusses Mobile as a Ranking Factor


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Google’s Gary Illyes recently was gracious enough to answer questions about the new “Mobile Friendly” ranking factor, as well as other SEO related topics.

Mobile Friendly Sites Get a Rankings Boost

Eric Enge, Question 1: This Search Engine Land article provides a lot of information on what it takes to earn “mobile friendly” status with Google. The article lists these 4 criteria:

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

Does this mean that other factors, such as page load time, or periodic server problems (i.e. 503s and 404s), are NOT included as a factor in earning this label?

Gary Illyes: We are of course looking for ways to improve the coverage and accuracy of this label, but currently if a URL comes back positive on the Mobile Friendly Test, the specific URL will get a mobile-friendly label in our search results. This tool is the best resource for learning about the criteria we are currently using.

Output From Google's Mobile Friendly Tool

Indirectly server errors can also play a role: if a page is comes back with 404 HTTP status code, we won’t index it so it can’t get a mobile-friendly label, and the same applies on most of the other error codes.

Eric Enge, Question 2: Is this mobile-friendly designation available to ANY site that meets the guidelines? Or is it only available to sites that meet authority or trust related metrics.

Gary Illyes: Yes, this is for any site and page that meets the criteria. Currently if the page passes the checks in the Mobile Friendly Test, it gets a badge; it’s that simple. For future updates on mobile-friendliness front, also keep an eye on the Mobile usability report in Google Webmaster Tools, which highlights major mobile usability issues across your entire site, not just one page. It’s probably the quickest way to learn about what site-wide usability issues we think you should fix.

Eric Enge, Question 3: Google has been putting more and more emphasis on user experience lately. You discussed this quite a bit at SMX East. Can you share your thoughts on why this is so important to Google?

Gary Illyes: That’s easy: whatever we do, it’s about the user. We want them happy and if we can contribute to their happiness, we will. I think it’s pretty clear that mobile-friendly websites provide a much better user experience for the mobile users. Studies consistently reflect this, as an example, 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site that they had trouble accessing from their phone. We’re putting more emphasis on UX because we simply want users to enjoy the web, regardless of what device they’re using or where they are.

Eric Enge, Question 4: What are the 2 or 3 most serious UX problems you see with regard to mobile?

Gary Illyes: I wouldn’t pick just 2 or 3, actually. We’ve identified quite a few in our Mobile Usability article and they include illegible text caused by small font sizes, necessity for excessive panning and zooming, or elements that are hard to click. Fixing these is a great first step, but then there are other problems which the PageSpeed Insights tool can highlight.

Output From Google's Page Speed Tool

Eric Enge, Question 5: Recently Google announced that HTTPS had been made a ranking factor. You and I also sat on a panel at SMX East where we talked about the impact. Can you talk about the scenarios in which this might actually make a difference in the rankings?

Gary Illyes: You came up with a pretty good way to describe it just before our session at SMX, when you said it’s like the Vice President acting as a tiebreaker in a 50-50 Senate vote. All things being equal in two results, it can make a difference for the result that is using the HTTPS protocol. It’s important to note though that we use hundreds of signals to rank our results, and while the HTTPS signal is one of them, it doesn’t carry as much weight as relevance for example.

HTTPS is a Weak Ranking Factor

Eric Enge, Question 6: Another UX concern is the publisher’s site itself. The recent Panda 4.1 update was the 27th update of that algorithm. Can you talk about the most common content quality problems people have with their web sites?

Gary Illyes: I’m not involved in anything Panda, but the 23 points we shared in 2011 are still relevant and the best resource to fix Panda related issues. We’ve seen sites that managed to recover from Panda’s effect using these guidelines.

Eric Enge, Question 7: When someone has an e-commerce site with tens of thousands of pages, or more, how would you suggest they look at incorporating content on the product pages of their web site?

Eric Enge, Question 8: What would you advise for consumer coupon sites? Sites like these have so many pages, are seen as valuable to users, but are challenging to get lots of orignal content on every page. What can they do to avoid being seen as poor quality sites by Google’s algos (including Panda)?

Gary Illyes: For 7 & 8, it’s actually very important for a business to stand out when there are many sites selling the same product, and I strongly believe that it is possible to get high quality and unique content on any product page. For example, some users like to write reviews; that’s already something that other users will appreciate. Product tests are more involved but they are, again, a great source for unique, valuable information. Personally, I find both of these kinds of content to be really useful.

Eric Enge, Question 9: One interesting aspect of this is John Mueller has indicated that going forward Penguin updates will be more frequent. What form will that take? Would it be monthly-ish like Panda has become, or something else?

Gary Illyes: The feedback on our recent Penguin refresh was, as far as I can tell, better than for previous refreshes. We are indeed looking into how we can make Penguin refreshes more regular like Panda’s, but since I’m not involved in these algorithms’ development I don’t know at what stage are we at.

Google's Gary Illyes

About Gary Illyes: Gary Illyes is a webmaster trends analyst dedicated to creating a better search experience for users by helping webmasters create amazing websites. When not crunching data to find ways to improve web search, Gary is contributing to the Webmaster Central Blog and helps users debug their websites in the Google Webmaster Forums.

Prior joining Google in 2011, Gary was teaching online journalism in Romania and abroad. He was a technical consultant for several high profile media outlets, and he spent his free time on online forums helping webmasters troubleshoot web- and news-search related issues. He has studied IT at the University of Phoenix and holds an associate’s degree in journalism from the Ady Endre College of Journalism in Romania.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Eric Enge
Eric Enge is a partner at Stone Temple Consulting (STC), which has been providing SEO Consulting services for over 5 years. STC has worked with a wide range of clients, ranging from small silicon valley start-ups, to Fortune 25 companies. Eric is also co-author of The Art of SEO book.


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