Google’s mobile-friendliness update: cataclysm or business as usual?

Apr 10, 2015 by
Google’s mobile-friendliness update: cataclysm or business as usual?

Last month, site owners around the world were left holding their breath when Google announced that they would be updating their search algorithm to accommodate for the increasing amount of internet users performing searches via mobile devices.

Phone screenStarting from April 21, Google will increase the weight they give to mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal for sites in searches made on mobile devices. This will have a significant effect on search results and thus, many are now panicking over whether or not their site is mobile-friendly enough. Additionally, Google have already began to “use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed.” As a result, they may now “surface content from indexed apps more prominently in search.”

Clarity amongst conflicting advice

Given the significance of the announcement, many people have been jumping to conclusions which unfortunately has resulted in a lot of conflicting advice and fervid forum-duels within the SEO community. While Google recommends that webmasters use the following Web Friendly Test and scrutinise their sites for any mobile-friendliness issues, Google’s Gary Illyes has thankfully provided some additional advice at a recent Q&A. Gary made the following noteworthy points:

  • Sites need to allow Googlebot to crawl both CSS & javascript to pass the upcoming mobile-friendly test.
  • Webmasters are not forced to use responsive for mobile – other mobile site choices are equally acceptable.
  • This change will not impact desktop search.
  • This is the only change to the Google’s algorithm scheduled for April 21.

Fight

While many are not convinced regarding Gary’s assertions that this update will only affect mobile search (smartphones specifically – not other devices such as tablets), we have no reason to distrust the claims. Fortunately, when Google roll out an update, they usually do it in small increments, meaning that the fear of instantly losing a huge amount of your site’s traffic overnight is completely unfounded (Google subsequently announcedthe update will be implemented over the course of a week). This means that if a site does take a dip in terms of rankings, there will be sufficient time to make the requisite changes in order to be successful with the new algorithm. And despite the fear mongering, it’s more likely that the update will actually give a bonus for sites that have excellent mobile-friendliness, rather than a penalty for sites which aren’t quite there yet.

How to prepare yourself for April 21st

It should be noted that although SEOClarity claim that 30% of internet searches are performed using smartphones, for most sites the amount of mobile search traffic is vastly lower than this figure. If you’re concerned about how this update will affect your business, it’s probably worth determining the amount of smartphone traffic you’re actually receiving – if the figure is already very low then you won’t have anything to worry about! For instance, Rand Fishkin recently published the device breakdown statistics for access of Moz.com, and without making alterations, the mobile-friendliness update could result in a loss of 1-3% of traffic. In other words, Moz.com does not receive a great deal of mobile traffic to begin with. Base your decisions on real data from your own site rather than industry averages.

Naturally, Moz are working diligently to ensure that their site is highly adequate for mobile users before April 21 anyway, and there are certain steps you can take too. As instructed, perform Google’s Mobile Friendly Test, allow Googlebot to crawl both CSS & javascript, use Google’sMobile Usability Report to find any functionality problems for mobile users. But above all – don’t give too much credence to the armageddon preachers! If there is an impact, it’s very unlikely to be cataclysmic, and there will always be steps you can take to ensure that your mobile traffic stays where it is.

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