Google is giving mobile advertisers yet another nudge as it attempts to make them more mobile-friendly.
As of Wednesday, mobile optimization will now be included in Google's "ads quality" ranking, which (along with pricing) determines what ads get served when. So—all other things being equal—an ad that links to a mobile-friendly website will get served alongside Google's mobile search results before an ad that doesn't.
"We cannot expect that every site will dramatically or magically become mobile optimized," says Surojit Chatterjee, who leads Google's mobile search ads team. However, Google can give advertisers a little more incentive, because the ones with mobile-friendly sites will now be able to "drive more traffic at a slightly lower cost."
Google has already taken steps in this direction. Chatterjee says that last year the company started limiting mobile ads that link to pages dominated by Flash-format content, which famously doesn't work on iPhones. In June, it announced a new feature in Google Sites to help advertisers build mobile-optimized landing pages. Still, a survey in February found that 79 percent of Google's largest advertisers don't have mobile-friendly websites (the number has probably decreased at least slightly since then), so this should give them another push.
Why does Google care? Chatterjee says that without a mobile-optimized site, the effectiveness of an ad is limited. He points to a recent survey where 61 percent of respondents said they would be unlikely to return to a website if it doesn't perform well on their mobile phone.
Having a strong mobile presence will be particularly important in the coming months, Chatterjee says, because Google expects heavy mobile search traffic during the holiday shopping season. In fact, the company is projecting that 15 percent of all Black Friday searches will be mobile.
Chatterjee's arguments seem to apply to Google's normal, unpaid search results as well—if people don't want to click on ads linking to websites that don't work on their phones, they probably don't want to click on search results with the same problem. But when asked if the company includes mobile optimization in its organic search rankings, Chatterjee declined to comment, saying a different team is responsible. (Adweek followed up on that question with a Google spokesman, who also declined to comment.)