Jon Fletcher 2020-06-19

Master Google’s Mobile Usability Report

After the recent news that Google will add ‘Core Web Vital’ scores as a ranking factor, we’re covering another ranking factor for mobile websites. 

Despite being a ranking factor since 2015, webmasters and publishers often don’t realize they have mobile usability issues to resolve until they get an email from Google. 

Appearing next to Core Web Vitals in Google Search Console, Mobile usability gives publishers some easy wins they can make to ensure their content is not being let down by errors in technical SEO. 

The report shows the trend of your pages with a status of either ‘valid’ or ‘error’. Seeing the trend over time helps webmasters understand how increases in errors may have affected their search ranking over the same period. 

Delve into the URLs with mobile usability errors and the report will break down exactly what issues are affecting the usability on mobile. 

Webmasters can see the trend and number of pages affected by the error. 

Common mobile usability errors

Uses incompatible plugins

Plugins, often but not limited to Flash, are not supported by mobile browsers. A living feature on desktop can be an ugly error message on mobile. 

If you get this warning, it’s recommended to remove these plugins and redesign using mobile-compatible web technology, such as HTML5. 

Viewport not set

The viewport is the area of the page that is visible on a user’s device. With so many different screen sizes and dimensions in the spectrum from desktop, tablet and mobile, the browser needs to know how to scale the page to fit the screen size. This can be remedied with a meta viewport tag. 

Viewport not set to "device-width"

Effectively, this error is telling you that your page is not responsive. The screen doesn’t adjust to fit the device viewport - it defines a ‘’fixed-width viewport property’’, meaning it won’t adjust for different screen sizes. Fixing this error requires a responsive design that adjusts and scales accordingly.

Content wider than screen

When pages use absolute values in CSS, or use images at a specific browser width (such as 980px), users need to scroll from side to side to see the content. A big part of a good mobile experience is making sure the content and the device are seamless. To resolve, pages should use relative width and position values for CSS elements. 

Text too small to read

One of the worst things you can do to a mobile reader is make them ‘pinch to zoom’. Using two fingers to zoom in on tiny text and move the page about as if under a magnifying glass is not part of Google’s vision for a mobile-first future. Make sure all text is large, clear and easy to read without zooming. 

The accepted rule in Material design is that font size needs to be 16 pixels for mobile websites. Smaller than that and it starts to compromise readability for visually impaired readers.

Clickable elements too close together

Touchable elements like buttons or navigational links need to have enough space around them for a user to tap them without also tapping a neighboring element.

A minimum recommended touch target size is 48px.

When you have resolved the pages with mobile usability errors, you can press ‘validate fix’ to get Google to re-assess the pages.

Fixed correctly and this will pass your pages to the ‘valid’ status, helping to improve your page ranking. 
While it’s always worthwhile to make sure the reading experience on mobile is as pleasing as possible, Google’s mobile-first focus will make it crucial. As ever, exact weightings in the ranking are never disclosed but Google says it will have a “significant” impact.

Publishers and webmasters need to ensure that their mobile experience is not a lesser facsimile of the desktop content, but a dedicated and pleasing experience itself. 

With mobile usage continuing to grow as the primary device for online content, Google will continue to reward better mobile experiences in the search rankings and downgrade poor experiences. 

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