Google’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update 2015

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update

Everything You Need to Know About Google's Stance on Being Mobile-Friendly

Google has their hands in just about anything connected to the internet. How big is Google? As of 2015, Google is the largest mobile platform provider (Android). Google is also the world’s leading mobile search provider, being the preset installed search provider on the majority of new mobile phones. Think the Apple App store was big? Nope. Google Play is now the worlds largest app store. To keep things simple, Google calls the shots in regard to mobile.

Even though Google has the largest app space, largest mobile platform and mobile search install base, it seems they will not be happy until they rule the entire internet, mobile and desktop combined. Enter the Google “Mobile-Friendly” Algorithm update.

What is the Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update?

Similar to other algorithm updates, Google is pretty good about announcing when they are about to stir things up. On February 26, 2015 Google went on Google Webmaster Central and announced that they were revamping their search algorithm to favor mobile friendly sites.

“Starting April 21st, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.”

What this means is: Shortly, you are about to witness a large upset in the existing algorithm, that could potentially have a greater impact on search engine placements than Panda or Penguin.

What Is a Mobile-Friendly Site?

As with most things Google, they provide you the tools to test to see if your site can or will be affected. There are three simple ways to see if your site is mobile-friendly:

1. Using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Tester. This is the easiest and most reliable way you can see if your site could potentially be affected or not.

Google Mobile Friendly Testing Tool

2. Searching directly for your site from your mobile device. If your site is mobile-friendly, Google will display a tag of text next to your site description.

Google Mobile Friendly Algorithm Update

3. Using Google Webmaster Tools. In your webmaster account, Google provides a Mobile Usability Report to help you discover and recommendations that may help your site show up better on mobile devices.

Mobile Usability Issues Google Webmaster Tools

The Algorithm Change Will Be “Significant”

Any time Google uses the word “significant” SEO’s and business owners alike should stand up and take notice. In the past, when they have stated this, there was a large impact across search engine placements. (Panda 1.0 in 2012, Poor Quality Linking in 2009, Crawl Errors in 2012 and Document Markup in 2010.)

From the Webmaster Forum:

“This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.”

Yikes. There is that word again, “significant”. But what does that really mean? Well, we already know that Google deems mobile so significant that they are focusing a vast majority of their resources (which are formidable) to dominate the platform. With this forthcoming update, we should brace for a seismic shift in mobile search placements and results.

To try and predict the outcome of something like this is subjective at best, but given their past history of shaking things up, possible. A few most likely scenarios are:

  • Non-optimized pages will drop completely from mobile search (and possibly desktop as well)
  • Pages that are not mobile-friendly will cease to rank for top level search terms
  • Local physical location when searching from mobile will play an even bigger part of who shows up where going forward
  • Top level search engine results pages will feature sites who are primarily mobile friendly

Google Will Promote Your Optimized Pages, and Demote the Others

One of the many interesting facts about this new update is the way that will react to mobile optimised pages vs non-mobile friendly pages. This means Google will look at your site on a page-by-page basis rather than grading your site as a whole.

What does that mean in practical terms? If your site has a mixture of pages that are mobile friendly and some that aren't, Google will promote the pages that are mobile friendly and not penalise or demote your entire website in the event that you have some pages that are not.

Generally, sites that are already responsive and have a mobile friendly format have little to worry about. Given you may have a few pages that are not mobile friendly, but most sites are either completely mobile friendly or not. That being said, if you are using a CMS such as Wordpress or Joomla and your site appears to be a responsive design, you should still check and make sure the Googlebot views it that way. We have seen certain templates that visually appear to be responsive, but still fail the Google Mobile Friendly test.

If You Mobilize It They Will Come

Even if you have a site that is not mobile friendly now, there is still a chance that you can get it fixed and be compliant quickly. Gary Illyes was quoted stating that the “new algorithm update operates in real-time”, meaning that is your site fails the mobile friendly test on the date is launched and is fixed a week later, the next Googlebot crawl will read the new changes and assign your site a new “score”.

How quickly that will translate to a new search position will remain to be seen, but could possibly be influenced by the site's popularity and set crawl rate.

Desktop and Mobile Now Working in Unison

Another noteworthy point of the algorithm update is that Google is mixing the desktop and mobile ranking signals. For example, if your site is already optimized for a fast load time on desktop, then in return that should also help your mobile site do better.

Given that mobile searches already exceed that of desktop searches, we can assume that any change to your website that would benefit the slower data speeds (non-wifi) of a mobile device would in turn help your site see a better search position. Keep in mind that all signals may not copy over, due to the vast differences of devices type, resolution and layout options.

App Indexing is Now a Ranking Factor

If your site has an associated Android app, then you can benefit from making a tighter connection between mobile search and mobile application. Making sure your app has deep link support, and that your site is verified in the Google Play console can help bridge the gap between your two separate entities.

Preparing Your Website for the Mobile-Friendly Update

After seeing how the past algorithms have played a part in the SERPs, it’s only logical to assume that the new mobile-friendly update will play a huge part in influencing mobile search results, (and possibly desktop SERP placement). Given that Google has publicly stated that it will be a “significant” update to their existing algorithm, the wise choice would be to make sure your website is as mobile-friendly as possible. If your website is currently not mobile search friendly, then we advise taking the following actions to solidify your current ranking or build upon it:

  1. Check for any messages or warning in Google Webmaster Tools. If you do not have an account, you can sign up for one at Google Webmaster Tools. Doing so will require validating ownership of your site to gain access to the testing tools.
  2. Test to see if your site is already viewed as mobile-friendly using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool. Even if your site is already visually responsive to different devices, it’s still a good idea to verify that the Googlebot views it as such.
  3. If your site fails the mobile-friendly test, contact your web developer to have a responsive version of your website designed. After development, re-check your site for any errors in Webmaster Tools and using the mobile tester again.
  4. Monitor your metrics for any fluctuation of ranking or tarffice loss the months following the algorithm update. Some of the well known keyword tracking programs are the MOZ Rank Tracker and Wordtracker.

Posted By David Kley - April 8th, 2015
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