Another of Google’s dreaded algorithm changes is coming. And, although it hasn’t got a cute animal name associated with it, the ‘mobile-friendliness update’ could be bigger and more deadly than both the Panda and Penguin updates.
On 21 April 2015 Google is rolling out a new update in order to keep up with the times and fully embrace mobile as the future of search. The ‘mobile-friendliness update’ is expected to have a “significant impact” on search engine results pages (SERPs) and punish sites that are not set up for easy use on mobile devices.
Google has explained what criteria a page needs to meet to be eligible for the ‘mobile-friendly’ label and has advised three top things the search engine is asking sites to do before 21 April.
It has even created an online tool for website owners to test if they will be affected. If you’re not sure if your website meets Google’s mobile-friendly standards click here to take the quick test that analyses your site for mobile-friendliness.
Or, if you do a simple Google search on your phone you can check if your website shows in search results with the mobile-friendly label next to it.
This mobile-friendly label came into effect at the end of last year, and works if a website has met the following Google requirements:
“A page is eligible for the “mobile-friendly” label if it meets the following criteria as detected by Googlebot:
- Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, e.g. Flash
- Uses text that is readable without zooming
- Sizes content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
- Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily “tapped”
Three things you need to do now
The three top things the search engine is advising sites to do before 21 April are:
- Check if your site is mobile-friendly (using the test)
- Customize your website software (using a CMS platform, such as WordPress, Joomla!, or Drupal which use mobile-friendly software)
- Implement mobile SEO best practices (and avoid common mistakes, like mobile-only 404s, slow pages, and unplayable content)
See also our blog post – Making your website mobile-friendly: an SEO approach
Google’s rationale for the update
Last year it was announced that over 60% of ‘total digital media time spent’ was on mobile devices.
Google itself has had its eyes on mobile for several years, dropping numerous hints that it would adjust to the changing digital landscape.
Google then announced the update in a recent blog post:
“When it comes to search on mobile devices, users should get the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps. As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns. In the past, we’ve made updates to ensure a site is configured properly and viewable on modern devices. We’ve made it easier for users to find mobile-friendly web pages and we’ve introduced App Indexing to surface useful content from apps. Today, we’re announcing two important changes to help users discover more mobile-friendly content:
1. More mobile-friendly websites in search results
2. More relevant app content in search results”
The SEO industry has been quick to respond, fearing the worst. With SEO news website Search Engine Land advising that it’s a question of how much you will suffer, rather than will you or won’t you suffer. Headlines such as ‘How Much Traffic Will You Lose From The Upcoming Mobile SEO-Pocalypse?’ or ‘Make sure you are prepared for Mobilegeddon’ are filling the SEO blogs and portals.
Various sectors will be affected by this differently. B2B websites are likely to see the smallest drop as users typically access these types of sites by desktop. On the other hand, e-commerce websites should be especially wary as lots of mobile and tablet search traffic could be about to be lost.
Google has clarified that this update will roll out over a one-week period globally so there is no time to waste if you’ve been contemplating a responsive upgrade. Even giants of the SEO industry have decided to implement all-out responsive designs for their own websites in preparation.
But it’s not just having a responsive website that qualifies your site as mobile-friendly – it’s a lot more about user experience.
Case study: How will this update affect your website?
Here is an example of one of our clients’ websites. This site receives 33% of all sessions through mobile traffic, which is just above the average of 30%, and it also sees 12.5% of its traffic come from tablet. At almost 45% of total traffic, this client does not want to risk losing out when Google implements the update.
Looking at our client’s data in Analytics, specifically at the organic search results in Acquisition > Channels, we noted another interesting aspect that could be heavily affected by the update. Have a look at these statistics in the graph below. It shows the mobile/tablet visitors, returning visitors and overall visitors.
Graph represents correlation between mobile and returning visitors in February/March 2015 – demonstrating a trend of users returning to the site via mobile.
It shows a close relationship between mobile users and returning visitors with 55% of all traffic coming from organic channels passing through mobile or tablet, a trend that is strengthening month by month. This makes sense because our client’s target audience demographic is 16-30 year olds – heavy mobile users.
Some 64% of the total organic traffic is made by returning visitors. That means that nearly 64 visitors out of 100 have found our client’s website by using search engines, after having spent some time on the site at least once, they then returned to it later.
On top of that, when looking at Google Webmaster Tools’ keyword research, we found some interesting data that should trigger the client into launching their mobile-friendly mission even sooner.
We also found that non-branded keywords tended to have a better CTR (Click-through-rate) on mobile – although they received fewer impressions than on desktop. In fact, the trend of the impressions and the CTR is increasing steadily, especially for the keywords ranked in the top #10 (cross referencing the data on Moz, the trend is confirmed also for keywords ranked between #11-#20). Furthermore, nearly 70% of the non-branded keywords researched through mobile devices are better positioned in the SERPs compared with the same keywords appearing on non-mobile devices. On desktop, on the other hand, the same keywords have ups and downs and get dramatic changes in CTR, impressions and/or average position on SERPs.
What have we learned from this?
Our client has a website that is used via mobile devices quite often, although the mobile UX is not yet 100% responsive. The organic traffic gained through mobile is more effective and constant – although it’s not as large as via desktop – and performs very well on SERPs. If the site is not switched to a mobile-friendly implementation straight away it is highly possible Google will penalise the site. Traffic currently gained through smartphones and tablets is at risk of being lost, especially as many of its nearest competitors already have a mobile-friendly version of their website implemented.
Getting the website to be 100% compatible for mobile devices means strengthening its position on SERPs, and possibly improving on referral and organic channels even more.
For those worrying about losing out to Google when this update hits on 21 April, remember that if you are prepared and have set up your site correctly you could actually benefit, because where there are losers there are winners filling the gaps. During Google’s last major algo update, Penguin 3.0, a couple of TIW clients came out the other side netting some pretty massive gains, which goes to show that if you are using SEO correctly you won’t get penalised when these sorts of updates go live, in fact, you could be rewarded.
And once you’ve gone mobile, you mustn’t forget the basics, like good SEO!