Google’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update is coming on April 21
Regular readers of our blog will know that when a Google algorithm update is on the horizon, SEO experts, webmasters, developers and businesses all over the world grab onto something and wait to see what happens when it hits.
That might sound dramatic, and it’s definitely not quite as Bruce Willis-versus-an-asteroid as it may sound, but there are enough examples out there of websites and indeed businesses that have been wiped out by Google’s Penguin and/or Panda updates over the years to know that news of an update is a newsworthy and potential worrying time for everyone.
The next algorithm update is coming on April 21, with Google stating that it will be “expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal”. The change is set to affect mobile searches in all languages across the world, and it is going to have a huge impact on search results in general. Search Engine Land has already predicted that it could be as big as the Penguin and Panda updates.
Why a mobile-friendly website is necessary
Most Web traffic is coming from mobile devices; in November 2014, mobile traffic to Google surpassed the number of visits from desktop, marking the turning point of mobile dominance.
Google are already labelling websites that are optimised for mobile devices as “mobile-friendly” and you can see this currently when making searches via mobile devices. Tomorrow, Google will be using mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal by promoting sites that are mobile-friendly and lowering the SEO ranking for websites that are not mobile-friendly. Sites that are slow to load will also undergo a speed penalty, resulting in further demotion in the search ranking. Google already use speed as part of its ranking algorithm.
What can we expect from the Algorithm Update?
The likely aftermath of the algorithm update is that webmasters without a mobile-friendly version of their site will see their rankings slip in the short term, at least until they figure out how to get their sites up to speed. It is also likely that more businesses will invest in creating apps, as Google have announced that more relevant app content will influence their rankings.
Neil Patel, the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics, helpfully laid out his ideas for how webmasters should deal with the upcoming update, and what to do afterwards. Writing on Search Engine Land, he stated the following:
- As the first course of action, make your website mobile-friendly. Responsive is best.
- Second, address any mobile usability issues in Google Webmaster Tools.
- Third, if you have an Android app associated with your site, get it deep-linked and indexed as soon as possible.
- Fourth, monitor your metrics carefully up to and following the rollout of the April 21 algorithm change.
These steps are designed to better the mobile web experience for the user
When a website isn’t mobile-friendly, the user finds it difficult to read the desktop version on a mobile device, having to pinch and zoom to read the content. Users will abandon sites when experiencing frustration and will move on to websites that are mobile-friendly because these sites will be readable and immediately usable. Organisations who do not invest in improving user engagement risk losing out to competitors who will already have adopted a mobile-friendly design.
Additionally, optimisation for mobile search will require further technical implementation, content and off-page factors. Mobile search is hyper-local, meaning your exact location will affect your search results.
Smartphone adoption and usage is a global phenomenon and businesses embracing the paradigm shift are able to not only gain a greater influx of users to their sites but can also gain a deeper understanding of the mobile consumer and make data-driven decisions to help grow their business.
What businesses find after adopting mobile-friendly sites is:
- Increase traffic to the website
- Increase page per visit
- Increase average visit duration
- Decrease bounce rate
Another benefit of creating a mobile-friendly website is that updating the site in the future will be easier once the mobile-core has been developed.
Mobile-friendly sites create a seamless user experience and help searchers find what they’re looking for faster. A high percentage of people search for local information on smartphones and these mobile searches occur at home or at work, where desktop computers are present. This is due to the always-on behaviour of consumers and their multi-screening habits.
Users who search with their mobile device will give preference to sites that Google have identified as mobile-friendly, resulting in a negative click-through rate for sites failing to be mobile-friendly. Mobile users are also becoming used to emerging UI practices, such as similar navigation symbols that are being used on mobile sites.
Google has made it easy to test whether a website is mobile-friendly or not with a Mobile-Friendly Test, where you can enter your site’s URL. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, here are the kind of user experience-based results that will be detected:
- text is too small to read
- the mobile viewport is not set
- content is wider than the screen
- links are too close together
Google Webmaster Tools
Connecting to Google’s Webmaster Tools will provide further insight into site-wide issues that are affecting the mobile-friendliness of your site.
Webmaster Tools will give you a warning regarding any mobile errors like this:
‘Google systems have tested 200 pages from your site and found that 100% of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors on these 200 pages severely affect how mobile users are able to experience your website. These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.’
There are a large number of big and important sites out there that haven’t fully prepared for the update. Maybe because the process is complex for their site set up or they have misjudged how important this could be for them. Take the example below for the Scottish National Party, surprising with all the buzz around elections.
In this day and age, where 80% of smartphone users are using their phones to search the web, the importance of owning a mobile-friendly website grows with every passing year.
The endgame for Google is to make it easier for their users to get the best search results on their mobile devices, the same as they already do on their desktops. You might be thinking “what’s the difference?” and that is where a lot of webmasters are going to end up in trouble. If your website doesn’t translate well to mobile devices, you could see your search results drop dramatically when the new update hits.
When updating your site to a mobile-friendly version, it will be good practice to consider the meaning and intent of each page to your audience. Things to contemplate can include user attention span and distractions that a mobile user may encounter. This mode of mind should drive a different outlook for your mobile site’s design, instead of just copy-and-pasting your desktop site.
If you want to know more on how to make a mobile-friendly site, head to Google’s guide on what makes exactly that. You can test your existing mobile site via their Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Your first port of call should be to have a Responsive Theme for your website. The vast majority of WordPress Premium themes are likely to be Responsive already, but check to make sure. Responsive themes adapt to the users device, and won’t translate badly when visited via a mobile device.
Are you prepared for Mobilegeddon?