Bing to follow Google in rewarding mobile-friendly websites

Microsoft's search engine will roll out a new algorithm that will reward sites that are compatible with mobile devices.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

The page on the left is mobile friendly; the one on the right not so much. Microsoft

Bing is following in Google's footsteps by encouraging websites to offer mobile-friendly versions.

In April, Microsoft added a "mobile-friendly" tag to certain websites found through its search engine, Bing. The goal is to alert users that such sites offer versions designed for better navigation and usability on mobile phones. Search for a certain site or topic on your phone, and you'll see the new tag pop up in the description of the site.

But now Bing has more up its sleeve with a new search algorithm that will rank mobile sites more highly in the search results based on certain factors.

More people are searching the Web via mobile devices. Around 60 percent of online traffic is now generated by mobile devices, according to a report published in mid-2014 by research firm ComScore. That report pointed specifically to digital media sites, not the Web as a whole. But it does point to the growth of mobile Web browsing. Google itself has found that mobile searches now outstrip those from PCs.

Google updated its search algorithm in April to rank mobile-friendly sites higher in the search results on mobile devices. With Bing following suit, the search engine is putting pressure on website developers to make sure their content can be easily viewed by mobile users. If not, such sites could find themselves sinking lower in the search rankings.

In a blog posted on Thursday, Microsoft's Bing Mobile Relevance Team said that it plans to start rolling out changes to its mobile-friendliness ranking in the coming months. The goal is to give webmasters and web developers enough time to tweak their sites to make sure they don't get dinged for being uncooperative with mobile users.

The team also highlighted some of the factors that Bing will take into account when judging a site's mobile friendliness.

One factor is navigation. The menus, buttons and page links should be large enough and spaced far enough apart so you can more easily navigate by touch. Another factor is readability. The text should be readable without forcing you to zoom in and swipe across the screen to view an entire sentence or paragraph.

A third factor is scrolling. The content on a page should fit the width of the screen on your mobile device. Having to scroll vertically is fine. But horizonal scrolling should be limited as it forces you to have to constantly swipe across the screen. Mobile pages should also fit nicely whether you hold your device in portrait or landscape mode.

A final factor is compatibility. The content on the page should be compatible with the device. As one example cited by the team, Apple doesn't support Adobe Flash on its mobile devices, so Flash content won't appear on an iPhone. Videos that require certain types of plug-ins or other dependencies also may not render properly. Bing looks for such incompatibilities when ranking mobile pages in its search results.

A Bing blog from last November offered webmasters some information on making their sites mobile friendly.

Of course, a site needs to be more than just mobile friendly to earn a high spot in Bing's search results. Microsoft will still value the relevancy of a page as a dominant factor. So some pages may still rank highly in the search results on a mobile device even if they're not particularly mobile friendly.

"Mobile-friendly webpages are key to satisfying on-the-go information needs, so it is important to optimize sites for an increasingly mobile user base," the team said in its blog. "We are very interested in hearing your thoughts on mobile friendliness and any feedback you may have on our plans. Join the conversation about mobile ranking -- give us your feedback through the Bing Listens portal."