November 4, 2019 | Max Willner

Having a Mobile Friendly Website Does Impact SEO


You probably already know how important it is to make your website mobile friendly for a better user experience, but did you know that having a mobile-friendly website impacts your SEO?

Google has talked about mobile-friendliness for years, even before internet usage on mobile made history when it exceeded PC usage in early 2014. Here's a bit of history on Google's mobile-friendly warnings, penalties, and ranking signal changes as well as where things stand today (and what you can do about it)!

Google’s Penalty for Bad Mobile Experiences

In June 2013, Google announced a penalty for websites that produce bad mobile experiences, and offered tips on how to fix the two most common mistakes: faulty redirects and smartphone-only errors. In their related blog post, Google stressed the importance of avoiding these and the other common website misconfigurations for smartphones. This penalty impacted how sites ranked for smartphone search results, making sites which provided a bad mobile experience less likely to rank in smartphone searches.

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Designation

mobile-friendly designation labelIn 2014, Google announced a “mobile-friendly” designation, which made responsive web design more important than ever to business marketing strategy. As part of that change, a “mobile-friendly” label appeared in mobile search results to highlight websites that offer great mobile experiences.

Although the mobile-friendly label was dropped in 2016, the 2014 change was another indication of how much Google values high-quality mobile experiences, and it heightened the buzz among industry experts that mobile-friendly criteria would soon be used as a ranking signal in search algorithms.

Google’s Mobile Usability Warnings

In January 2015, Google sent mass notifications via email and through webmaster tools to owners of sites that weren't mobile friendly.

These notices, along with the launch of mobile usability reports and mobile-friendly testing tools, were more compelling signs that a mobile ranking algorithm would soon be upon us. 

Google mobile-friendly test


<----- Example of Google's response for a website that does not meet mobile-friendly standards.




Google’s Mobile-Friendly UPDATE & Mobile Boost ANNOUnCEMENTs

In February 2015, Google announced that mobile-friendly compliance would soon be a ranking signal for searches conducted on mobile devices. The goal of this change was to help users easily find relevant, high-quality results for sites optimized for mobile viewing. At the time of the "Mobilegeddon" announcement, Google also started using information from indexed apps as a ranking factor if a user had the app installed and was signed in.

In May 2016, mobile was on Google's mind yet again when their blog relayed information on the "Mobile Boost" update. This change further increased the impact of the mobile-friendly ranking signal in their algorithm. 

GOOGLE's Mobile-First Indexing ANNOUnCEMENT

Next came Google's November 2016 announcement that they would begin experiments to make their index mobile-first. Because of the increased number of searchers using their mobile devices for results, Google's goal was to eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to:

  • Rank pages from that site
  • Understand structured data
  • Show snippets from those pages in results

This was a hugely important shift in Google's processes — a vital "first step" that eventually led to the mobile-first structure we live by today. 

Google’s Mobile intrusive interstitials penalty 

In January 2017, Google announced a ranking penalty for websites that used certain types of interstitials considered intrusive when viewed on a mobile device. Intrusive types of interstitials included:

  • Displaying a pop-up that covers up the main content of a page immediately after a user lands from the search results or as they're looking through the page 
  • Showing a standalone interstitial that the user is required to dismiss before accessing the main content
  • Using a page layout that has a standalone interstitial as the above-the-fold portion of the page with the original content inlined underneath the fold

Interstitials that were considered "responsible" by Google and thus not subject to the new penalty were:

  • Login boxes on sites with content not intended for public viewing 
  • Interstitials that display in a reasonable amount of the screen and are easily dismissed
  • Interstitials used for legal reasons, such as age verification or GDPR requirements


In July 2018, Google rolled out the "Speed Update." Their announcement said that while Google was already using speed in ranking for desktop searches, they were adding page speed as a factor in mobile search ranking as well. This update explained that very slow pages could have more difficulty ranking unless the search query signal took precedence. 

Mobile-First Indexing By DEFAULT

In May 2019, Google announced that, as of July 1st, mobile-first indexing would be enabled by default for all new websites previously unknown to the search engine. After approximately two and a half years of experimenting with mobile-first indexing since the initial announcement, Google finally decided that most new websites were "generally ready" for the new method. Using the smartphone "Googlebot" to crawl the web, Google verified that mobile-first indexing was finally ready to be the default — while promising that this standard will continue to be important for new websites. 

What does that ominous-sounding warning mean for you? Only that Google will continue to crawl each site and measure its responsiveness to both desktop and mobile versions to ensure the site's compatibility. The readiness and responsiveness of existing websites is determined by:

  • Parity of content (including text, images, videos, links)
  • Structured data
  • All other meta-data (for example, titles and descriptions, robots.txt specifications, meta tags, etc.)

We (and Google) highly recommended reviewing these sections of your website to make sure you're up-to-date!

Mobile-Friendly Website Tips and Tools

If you care about SEO (and I know you do), don’t suffer negative impacts to your website ranking due to mobile-friendliness problems—use the following tips and tools to check the status of your website and improve your results!

  1. Conduct a mobile-friendly test using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool
  2. Check your website for errors using Google’s Mobile Usability tool (in Search Console)
  3. Check the speed of your pages using Google's Speed Test
  4. Invest in responsive web design that's optimized for viewing on mobile and desktop

Wondering about Your Website'S SEO? We've got you covered!

SEO Report Card Tool

Author's Note: This post was originally published on February, 15, 2015 by Holly Yalove. It has since been updated with new content by VIEO's Digital Marketing Manager Max Willner.

Max Willner

Max Willner

In his role as Digital Marketing Manager, Max provides digital ad strategy, campaign management, and SEO support for our clients. To help build ads and other content that engage visitors and improve ROI, he applies data-driven insight that allows us to create incisive, effective plans that boost clicks, conversions, and sales. His desk plant, Bob, provides fresh oxygen for impromptu yodeling competitions.

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