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Google's Mobile Update: No Time to Panic

Scott Thomas - Thursday, April 16, 2015

Starting on April 21st, Google will increase the use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal on mobile devices. This change may take days or weeks to roll out, it will affect mobile searches in all languages, world-wide. At this time, it's unclear if the impact will boost mobile-friendly pages or work as a demotion for non-mobile friendly pages, but the intent is to promote mobile-friendly pages up higher in the search results. While there are still some unknowns as to the impacts, we do know that website that are not mobile friendly will not be removed from the search results. 

It appears that the upcoming algorithmic change will not impact desktop search rankings. We also know that the mobile friendliness update will work on the page level, and run in real time. This means that after you update your site with mobile-friendly pages, Google will quickly see that and respond to the change (no long-lasting suppression or site-wide penalties).

Remember, Google's goal is to provide the most relevant search results to it's users. What can your business or organization do to adapt?

Assess your Website Visitors' Experience: What percentage of your website visitors are using a mobile device? For example, if only 20% of your visitors are on a mobile device, and those visitors have similar engagement as your desktop users, then perhaps it's not necessary to quickly develop a new responsive or mobile site. On the other hand, if you are a local, brick-and-mortar business, and you get 30% or more of your current web visitors via mobile devices, then it's likely vital to update your site to include mobile-friendly pages as soon as possible. 

  • For your website, what percentage of pages are visited by Google organic search visitors, from a mobile device?
  • Are these mobile users looking for specific information, such as map or location information?
  • Would it be possible to create a small sub-set of mobile pages, to give these users what they need?

Check and Improve your Mobile Friendliness: Even if you already have a responsively design site, or a combination of a mobile and desktop sites, it's important to do a mobile SEO audit and see if Google is actually serving your mobile pages. Test your site with Google's Mobile-Friendly Testing tool, and see what usability issues, if any, must be addressed. From Google Webmaster Tools, use the Google smartphone crawler to see if there are problems with crawling your site. 

Competition Level in your Niche: Finally, how well does your site stack up to your top competitors? Is your website the only one that isn't mobile friendly? If you are in a very competitive field, then use mobile rankings tools to discover the keywords that your competitors are out-ranking you for on mobile devices. 

Don't Panic, but Create a Plan: While some Internet marketers, designers, and domain registrar companies might be exaggerating the impacts of the upcoming change, it's important to make your site mobile-friendly in the near future. Google representatives have publicly stated that they expect the volume of searches from mobile devices to exceed the volume of desktop-based search during the 2015 calendar year.

If your users are primarily desktop-based, then perhaps you can wait until the next planned website redesign to incorporate mobile-friendly pages. Examine your situation closely by using your analytics data, Google Webmaster Tools, and the mobile friendly testing tool to determine the potential impact of the upcoming mobile friendly algorithm change. Once April 21st rolls around, keep a close eye on the volume of Google organic traffic (especially from mobile devices) and compare it to past performance.

Think about the mobile user first, their experience your website, and when you'll have the budget to update your site for mobile-friendliness. Perhaps you have overlooked those users, and you should update your website for mobile friendliness as soon as possible; but if the impact is low, then you might be able to wait.



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