Mobile Friendliness & Speed: What’s the Difference?

Written by: Jason Bayless | September 02, 2016
Sometimes termed “mobilegeddon,” there is no mistaking the influence of Google’s 2015 algorithm changes on website owners and webmasters everywhere. To further emphasize its commitment to mobile friendly websites, Google then launched a free tool to test any site’s degree of usability in a mobile (small screen) setting.

As with any sweeping change, however, mobilegeddon also ushered in an era of confusion. For example, post-algorithm shift, previously well-known terms such as “speed” and “mobile friendliness” sometimes now raise more questions than answers when it comes to optimizing websites for multiple uses and users.

In this post, learn what the difference truly is between mobile friendliness and speed when it comes to optimizing your individual or business website.

Mobile Friendliness Explained
Interestingly, as of August 23, 2016, Google announced it is dropping “mobile friendly” search results from its menu of search result options. No sooner does the browser giant introduce a new term than it discontinues it, but the change won’t be so rapid for those still trying to enter the mobile friendliness arena.

Google states that an estimated 85 percent of websites now exhibit some degree of mobile friendliness. What mobile friendliness means to Google is simply this:

– The site performs the same on devices of different screen sizes.
– The site is optimized visually for viewing on different screen sizes.
– The site makes it easy to complete tasks on small screen devices.
– The site has responsive (tap-friendly) buttons for small screen device users.
– The site is easy to navigate even on small screen devices.
– The site’s images (photos, graphics, videos, et al) are optimized for viewing on smaller screen devices.

Website Speed Explained
Where things do start to get confusing, however, is when discussions of speed intersect with discussions of mobile friendliness. This is because, in some aspects, speed (load time) is also a facet of mobile friendliness.

For example, statistics state that the average mobile (smaller screen) user will leave a website if it hasn’t fully loaded within the first 3 seconds. Given that the average full web site takes about 9 seconds to load on small screen devices, this means mobile speed is of the utmost critical importance when it comes to ensuring the mobile friendliness of any website.

So when it comes to speed, the goal of mobile friendliness is to ensure the initial page the mobile user navigates to will load within 3 seconds (the rest of the site will continue loading in the background). This will keep the user on the site and boost the overall mobile friendliness rating of the website itself.

Understanding Google’s Mobile Friendliness Test
Google’s mobile friendliness test for websites isn’t the only such test available, but it is undeniably the best known and most popular. The test looks at a number of criteria to determine where a given website falls on the spectrum of overall mobile friendliness.

Here is the criteria the test evaluates for:

Mobile friendliness. Mobile friendliness reviews how the site performs on small screen devices. This includes font legibility/size, tap-friendliness, content appropriately sized for the device screen and overall usability in a small screen setting.

Mobile speed. Mobile speed evaluates how quickly the site loads on small screen devices. A properly compressed and cached site with minimal CSS (cascading style sheet) should be able to load a page on a small screen device in under 3 seconds.

Desktop speed. As a point of comparison, Google’s test also evaluates how quickly the site loads on the average large screen desktop computer.

At the end of the test, the site will be graded by Google on a scale of 0 to 100. Each site’s test results will showcase how mobile friendliness and speed are both essential elements as well as complementary to an overall mobile friendly experience.