Using her phone for a web search of Orland Park pizza places, Jennifer Dale points out the "mobile-friendly" labels next to some of the results.
The simple two-word tag could translate into customers lost or gained for area businesses, depending on how compatible their websites are for smartphones and other mobile devices.
A change by Google gives more favorable rankings to mobile-friendly sites, pushing others to the back page during mobile searches. The shift doesn't affect rankings for searches done using a laptop or PC.
With more searches being made with a smartphone or tablet, businesses that don't adapt run the risk of being rendered invisible to potential customers. Larger companies with in-house staff dedicated to managing their employer's online profile are likely to be in better shape than smaller businesses. Also, if a small firm doesn't currently have a lot of potential customers using mobile searches, it might be inclined to postpone making changes.
B Practical Solutions, an Orland Park company that offers website design services, is educating its clients, primarily businesses in the southwest suburbs, about the changes, said Dale, the firm's marketing director. It's telling them "don't panic" right now, but to "evaluate how people are buying your product and how they are searching for you.
"Mobile friendliness will grow in importance" for small businesses, she said. "It's something to pay attention to, but it's not going to be the only influencer in how you are ranked."
In fact, having a mobile-friendly site isn't a cure-all for poor rankings of a small business with a lackluster online presence, said Don Anderson, whose Mokena company, Top Quality Online Solutions, specializes in website design and Internet marketing. Most of the firm's clients have a website, but "it may have been years since they did anything with it," which hurts their visibility in a crowded online marketplace, he said.
"It's another door for potential customers to go through," Anderson said of any company's web profile.
Google says the mobile rankings will favor sites that load quickly, have easy-to-read text and links, and fit the device they're being seen on so users don't have to scroll from side to side or reduce the page size.
"Users get frustrated if they have to squeeze and pinch" the screen, Anderson said.
To comply, a business might have to rework an existing website or create a scaled-down mobile-only site.
Google late last year began adding "mobile-friendly" tags to websites pulled up in mobile searches. It foreshadowed that mobile friendliness could become a factor in website rankings. The new ranking method was announced in February and went into effect last week.
To find out whether a website is mobile friendly, Google has set up a test page where you can type in an address.
Anderson and Tracey Greenwald, graphic and web designer with Top Quality, said that while desktop and laptop computers are still the go-to devices for web searches, mobile searches are gaining ground.
The number of web searches made with a smartphone or tablet increased 5 percent last year compared with 2013, while searches on a desktop were down slightly year over year, according to a recent report by Internet technology firm comScore. It's not just younger people driving the trend, although they're the biggest factor behind it.
"Millennials have a definite influence on it, but middle-age and older adults" are doing searches with a mobile device, Dale said.
ComScore said the 55-plus crowd is the fastest-growing segment of people searching online with a mobile device. People age 18-34 represent the largest segment, on a percentage basis, of mobile-only users.
"Whatever target audience you are trying to reach, being mobile-friendly is imperative these days," Greenwald said.
Top Quality recently worked with RCM Heating and Cooling in New Lenox to overhaul its website, which was tough to navigate and unattractive, said Rachel Zolfo, marketing specialist for RCM.
"We realized we needed a better online presence," Zolfo said.