Why Google’s “Clickable Elements Too Close Together” Email is Nothing To Worry About

Your page is not mobile friendly…

Have you ever gotten that pesky email from Google Search Console? The one that says your website isn’t mobile-friendly, that your text is too small, and your clickable elements are too close together. In the digital marketing world, we see that email at least once or twice a month, often forwarded to us by an irate client who wants to know why we’ve angered the invisible hand of Google.

After many hours spent fussing with font sizes and margin width, padding, button size, menu layouts, footers, and headers, I’m here to tell you: your website’s clickable elements and text size are just fine. 

Google Search Console only tells part of the story

For many years, that email from Google would send me into a tailspin. It sounds pretty bad, right? Google says my text is too small to read. Google says my clickable elements are too close together. When I look at the website, everything looks fine. The buttons are padded and the margins are good. The font is big and easy to read… but Google thinks my website is hard to use. And if Google thinks my website is hard to use, they must be right, right? I mean, it’s Google. They are the internet, right? If I’ve failed Google, then I’ve failed as a web designer, developer, SEO specialist, everything. Not a great feeling. Thanks, Google. 

But over the years, I started learning more and more about web development, HTML, Javascript, CSS, all the fun stuff. I started learning more and more, and I still would get that email from Search Console. So I started researching, digging around, talking to other devs and SEOs, and I started to understand the events leading up to that fateful email. I learned that the email only told part of the story. But to understand why Google’s email doesn’t really apply to me, I had to understand more about Google Search Console.

Page caching may be affecting the way Google sees your site

Meanwhile, over on your website… to improve page load speed, many websites use a feature called dynamic caching. Dynamic Caching speeds up your page load stats by creating a static HTML version of your site’s web pages and storing them in your server’s cache. Those static pages load a lot faster, but before they can be served to visitors to your site, they need to be generated by the caching plugin that’s in use. Usually the new static HTML copy of the page loads as soon as we save and refresh the screen, but sometimes the cache is set to automatically clear and refresh every couple of weeks to ensure that the most recent version of the page is what’s being stored. But sometimes there is a gap between when a cache is cleared and the new static HTML copy of the page is generated. And now back to Google Search Console…

a man sitting at a computer, holding his head and laughing
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What is Google Search Console?

According to Google, “Search Console tools and reports help you measure your site’s Search traffic and performance, fix issues, and make your site shine in Google Search results.” The GSC tools make it easier for webmasters and developers to measure organic search visibility and technical issues that may prevent your site from being indexed by search engines.

Google Search Console is a very useful platform for SEOs, because GSC allows us to see which pages have (and haven’t) been indexed, along with other useful tools like URL inspection tools, re-indexing requests, domain forwarding without the use of 301 redirects, and sitemap submissions. Whenever we make a change to a page on your website, we go to GSC and re-submit your sitemap. Re-submitting helps speed up the process of getting changes and new pages indexed faster by notifying Google to send its bots to your site to look for changes and new pages. But whether you re-submit a sitemap or not, Google will send its crawlers to your site periodically to index any changes.

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Google’s crawler bots don’t know everything

Usually, by the time Google’s crawler-bots reach your website, the static HTML versions of the pages have been generated and loaded into the cache, and are ready to be indexed. But sometimes, the crawlers get there before the cached pages have been loaded, and so the server is forced to serve up the original rendered page, which takes a few seconds. And during those few seconds, while the Google-bot waits for the page to render, the server shows the bot an unrendered, skeletal version of the forthcoming page.

Of course, 2 seconds later, the correct version of the page loads properly and the Google-bot indexes it and moves on. The fully styled, rendered version of the page lacks any signs of small text or too-close-together buttons, but the email says otherwise. And Google being… Google, they don’t find it necessary to send a follow-up email saying “my bad, I panicked and sent that before the page had a chance to load.” But they should.

Actually, your clickable elements ARE too close together… for a second or two

That skeletal version of the page is filled with clickable elements (think of your top nav menu, but in one long bulleted list) and all those links are stacked with no spaces or formatting, and in a relatively small font compared to what you see once the page fully renders. When the Google-bot sees that skeletal version, it overreacts and triggers a warning email to let you know your page isn’t loading properly. 

So when Google SENT the email, your clickable elements were, if only for a fraction of a second, too close together. But by the time that email reached your inbox, everything was perfectly fine. Therefore, that email most likely doesn’t apply to your website, and can be safely ignored. 

— Bryan Swift, SEO Specialist at Ehlen Analytics

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