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Is “Mobile Friendly” Always Friendly?

By: Kevin Hamilton

This month Google made a significant change in how they will rank website results for searches you perform on your phone.  They call this initiative “Mobile Friendly,” and for sites they deem unfriendly, there is a good chance that the website will be displayed in the Google search results with a warning message, or not at all.

As a result, many website owners have been rushing to implement a “Mobile Friendly” experience for their website. The problem is, not all mobile website implementations are equal. And in fact, Google’s algorithms are not making a subjective judgment on the friendliness of the website at all; they only look at more objective metrics of mobile usability. Here are the factors that Google states they rely on when judging mobile websites:

  • A defined viewing area (or viewport) that adjusts to the device’s screen size.
  • Content that flows in the viewport, so that users don’t have to scroll horizontally or pinch the screen in order to see the entire page.
  • Fonts that scale for easier reading on small screens.
  • Easy-to-touch elements (e.g., buttons) that are well-spaced from other touch elements.

So, what is the low bar to be “Mobile Friendly” according to Google? Having a page that is readable without needing to pinch-zoom the screen and which does not overflow the viewport. But, is that friendly enough? Let’s take a look at a website that Google calls “Mobile Friendly” and compare it to the equivalent desktop website experience.

Here is a well-designed, professional e-commerce website for a national brand that has over 600 stores in 48 states:

Click to see full size
Click to view full size

Here is the same website as it looks on mobile:

Click to view full-size
Click to view full-size

While usable, I don’t consider this page very mobile friendly.

  1. Consider the lack of any site navigation aside from search;
  2. overlapping click targets (“Find a store” is half the size of the average finger and directly adjacent to three other click targets);
  3. misaligned text and images in the page layout;
  4. out-of-proportion images and text;
  5. positioning and format of the Mother’s Day promotion;
  6. and the unreadably small text in the feature image (remember, there is no pinch-zoom available).

This looks to me like a site which was shoe-horned into a mobile layout without the care and attention required to produce a positive mobile experience.

The fact is, you don’t have to sacrifice your brand engagement for mobile, nor should you. Let’s look at another example and see how an investment in mobile design can promote your brand and provide a truly friendly mobile experience.


Click to see full size


Click to view full-size

See the difference? Your customer will, too! Go beyond “Google Friendly” and make your responsive site truly friendly.


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