During Matt Mullenweg’s Q&A session at WordCamp Europe, an unidentified Google employee asked about making WordPress sites more mobile-friendly:
I work at Google with search and we think the web and mobile are important, but one thing that we noticed is that 28% of the new sites that choose WordPress and come online (that we’ve discovered) still choose desktop oriented themes, so they’re not going to be mobile friendly. Do you have any ideas about how to promote mobile-friendly options for less-savvy users.
That number seems rather high, given that WordPress’ default themes have been responsive for years. She didn’t share any of the metrics Google is using to determine that more than a quarter of new WordPress sites are using themes that aren’t mobile friendly. As the result of the discussion, however, Matt Mullenweg said that he thinks responsiveness should be a requirement for themes on WordPress.org:
Brian Krogsgard referred to a responsive tag for themes in the directory, but the tag is soon to be removed. The Theme Review Team recently finalized an overhaul of the available tags and theme authors are encouraged to update their tags to reflect the changes. In the corresponding ticket for WordPress 4.6, Justin Tadlock summarized why the team opted to remove the ability to filter by responsive themes:
A note on “responsive”: It seems that this is the no. 1 searched layout tag, followed by “fluid”. Based on feedback and discussion, we believe most users are simply looking for a responsive theme. When a tag is always used by themes and by users, it becomes practically useless in distinguishing themes from one another.
The Theme Review Team has not yet discussed the possibility of requiring all new incoming themes (and possibly updates to older themes) to be responsive. Ideally, detecting if themes meet this requirement would be something that could be automated, as the team is currently trying to resolve blockages in the queue that have left hundreds of themes waiting months for approval.
During WordCamp Europe, WordPress Lead Developer Dion Hulse said that Joost de Valk approached him to run the Google Mobile-Friendly test against all WordPress.org themes. Hulse opted to run the test against all themes tagged with ‘responsive-layout,’ as those without that tag would fail predictably. He shared the results in the theme-review Slack channel with a link to the Google spreadsheet. The document shows that 1,692 themes have been tagged as responsive, which is less than half of the 3,979 themes available in the directory.
“Most themes pass with great results, some have issues, and some are unusable on mobile,” Hulse said. “I didn’t want to call anyone out, but take the first theme (radiance-lite) for example, it’s a brand-new theme and although it’s responsive, the menu blocks access to the site content when resized – and their scanner picked that up. Some themes appear not to work on wp-themes.org which causes a fail in the spreadsheet too.”
Hulse said that because the test requires a public URL to crawl, it cannot be automated before themes upload. However, there may be a similar test that the team can use to automate a responsiveness determination.
Removing the ability to filter by a responsive designation, when the majority of themes on WordPress.org have not been tagged as being responsive, could make it difficult for users to choose a mobile-friendly theme. It forces users to determine responsiveness the hard way – through activating and testing themes on their sites. This is not ideal for promoting WordPress as a mobile-friendly platform. If the Theme Review Team is not able to find a way to automate testing for responsive design, it may be time to reconsider the removal of that tag from the filtering options.