Google has once again changed the search engine landscape with its latest algorithm update for mobile-friendly websites. This update, launched on April 21st, is designed to improve user experience and respond to the skyrocketing use of mobile devices to access the Web.
The update assigns a website’s “mobile friendliness” as a key factor in how it is ranked. Therefore sites that are not mobile optimized may fall in Google’s search results.
Industry professionals are referring to the update as “Mobilegeddon,” as it is anticipated to affect a large amount of websites on the Internet.
According to a study by SumAll, more than two thirds of Fortune 100 companies are not considered mobile friendly. The effect of this update could be catastrophic for many companies, severely disrupting their website traffic.
Why Mobile-Friendly, Why Now?
To begin, let us give you some background on the algorithm update. According to Google, this algorithm update was made in an effort to provide users with the best results: “users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.” Google’s goal in boosting the rank of mobile-friendly pages on mobile devices, according to their Webmaster Central blog, is that “searchers can more easily find high-quality and relevant results where text is readable without tapping or zooming, tap targets are spaced appropriately, and the page avoids unplayable content or horizontal scrolling.”
The focus is on mobile devices because of the exponential growth of mobile technology. The International Data Corporation, a provider of market intelligence, reported that 1.3 billion smartphones were shipped worldwide in 2014, up 28% over the previous year. Search on mobile devices is outpacing desktop search tenfold.
Neil Patel of Search Engine Land sees this update as one of the most significant launches Google has made. “Already, we know that this update will be bigger than Panda or Penguin. We also know that Google considers mobile to be so significant that they are working to dominate nearly all of its manifestations. With this search update, we should brace ourselves for a tectonic adjustment in the way that mobile search functions.”
So how does Google know the difference between a mobile-friendly website and a site that is not?
How Does the Algorithm Work?
According to Search Engine Land, Google’s search engine spiders will scan each page, checking for loading times, responsive design and best practices toward mobile websites. They will be looking for usability elements such as large text, easily clickable links, and optimized sizes that fit the smaller mobile device screen. Sites without these elements will be demoted in the rankings and can expect a drop in mobile traffic.
What Should I Do Now?
So how does a website owner survive in a post-mobile-friendly-algorithm world? Here are some tips you can use right away:
- Not sure if you have a mobile-friendly site? Use Google’s Mobile Friendly Test to find out if you need a responsive retrofit for your website. You can use our web design checklist, as well.
- Use responsive design whenever possible. Responsive design is the preferred development method by Google, as opposed to adaptive design and mobile websites.
- Avoid Flash. If you are using Flash on your site, it will not be supported on mobile devices. Google will penalize sites that use it.
- If you are not able to complete a site-wide responsive retrofit, consider focusing on the homepage and other main pages. The update scans a site page by page, so if some of your pages are mobile friendly, the entire site will not be penalized for being completely responsive.
Google Webmaster Blog has also created FAQs around this topic, including these, which address some long-held beliefs that may not be true:
Will my site / page disappear on mobile search results if it’s not mobile-friendly?
While the mobile-friendly change is important, we still use a variety of signals to rank search results. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal — so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query.
What if my audience is desktop only? Then there’s no reason to have a mobile site, right?
Not exactly. Statistics show that more people are going “mobile only” — either because they never had a desktop or because they won’t replace their existing desktop. Additionally, a non-mobile-friendly site may not see many mobile visitors precisely for that reason.
The mobile-friendly update will apply to mobile searches conducted across all sites, regardless of the site’s target audiences’ language, region, or proportion of mobile to desktop traffic.
Conclusion: Be Mobile-Friendly
Google’s latest algorithm update is the most important development in organic search and SEO since Panda and Penguin. Companies with websites that are not mobile-friendly should work towards a fully responsive website design in order to keep up with the change in search habits by Internet users.