Google (GOOG) is experimenting with special ranking for mobile-friendly sites. That’s right, if your site earns Google’s new ‘Mobile-Friendly’ approval, you may be rewarded with a ranking boost—higher search results thanks to living mobile-friendly.

According to Google, when it comes to the coveted search on mobile devices, users should get the most relevant and timely. So, starting April 21, Google will be expanding its use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in Google’s search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high-quality search results that are optimized for mobile devices.

Why the change? As more people use mobile devices to access the Internet, Google’s algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns. In the past, Google made updates to ensure a site was configured properly and viewable on modern devices. Now, Google is making it easier for users to find mobile-friendly web pages—and has even introduced App Indexing to surface useful content from apps.

Previous changes to Google's algorithm simply required website owners to make sure their websites were mobile-optimized, making them easier to view on smartphones and tablets. Starting immediately, Google will begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed.

As a result, Google may now surface content from indexed apps more prominently in search. That’s right, more prominently!

So don’t panic—Google has shared these tips for getting mobile friendly!

It’s been obvious for some time that Google is serious about mobile friendliness. In June 2013, Google introduced a penalty for sites providing a bad mobile search experience. Sites generating errors and other problems for mobile visitors received less visibility in Google’s smartphone results, or the results Google shows to mobile searchers as opposed to desktop searchers. After all, there’s nothing worse than getting a desktop website when you’re on your smartphone, right?

Two weeks ago, Google began testing mobile-friendly icons in the mobile search results, next to sites that were mobile-friendly. Google will be looking for problematic pages, which will be politely scolded with a decree by Google stating the pages were not seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and therefore will be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users. If your site is built with software, including WordPress, there are easy steps to make to take your site in a mobile friendly direction.

What makes a site earn Google’s “mobile-friendly” branding—and win the approval of the almighty Googlebot? Sites that display the following criteria:

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

Essentially, Google is taking a hard line in encouraging everyone to make your site look great on mobile devices—whether you are a startup business or a massive enterprise. Google wants you to test and fix potential issues with your site’s mobile friendliness and avoid common mistakes to keep your site off Google’s radar. No more faulty redirects and irrelevant cross-links, people! Now more slow mobile pages. No more unplayable content. It’s time to embrace going mobile—or face rankings demotion or, worse, the moniker of an unfriendly mobile site designed to give a poor user experience.

Final thought: If you have been avoiding upgrading to a responsive web design, you've waited too long.  

Marie Alonso is an online marketing and media strategist at CompuData, a leading IT company. She contributes business-driven content to The VAR Guy regularly.