Google’s Mobile Algorithm Update Revisited

Over a month has passed since Google rolled out its Mobile Update, and with the dust settling we can finally begin to get a clearer picture of the actual impact. Back in early April, we spoke about what a mobile algorithm update might mean and how to prepare for it. Here is what we’ve learned since.

 

The Majority of WEBSites Didn’t See Their Mobile Presence Destroyed.

By most accounts, the update hasn’t been the site-crushing Mobilegeddon many in the industry predicted it would be. While many sites with mobile-usability issues certainly experienced some changes, the large majority didn’t see their mobile rankings completely fall off a cliff.

In the week following the update, Dr. Pete Meyers, of Moz tracked the volatility of mobile rankings using the same Mozcast format the site applies to desktop results. The higher the “temperature”, the more volatility and change in Google’s mobile search results. Besides a small spike the day after the roll out, overall fluctuation was relatively minimal. Google did confirm that the roll out was complete by May 1st and subsequent weeks have also proved stable overall. The Mobile Update also hasn’t produced a major victim among the web’s biggest players like algorithm updates in the past have (think Amazon with Penguin 4.0).

 

So Why Didn’t The Mobile Update Have As Large of Impact As Expected?

Google’s Jon Mueller attempted to answer this question during a Google Webmaster Central Hangout on May 8th. His answer to the question was two-fold:

  1. The impact was large, in that the update affected many different sites and queries. That doesn’t mean every individual site or query saw major changes to their actual search results.
  2. Google’s advanced announcement of the update and warnings to non-mobile friendly sites through Webmaster Tools prompted many to address mobile usability issues ahead of the roll out. Google reported a 7% increase in mobile-friendly sites between March and April.

It’s also important to remember that Google’s “mobile-friendly” designation is issued on a page-by-page basis, not for domains as a whole. Websites with mobile usability issues on a portion of the pages are only seeing mobile rankings drop on keywords those pages rank for. This fact certainly lessens the blow, compared to a situation where the “mobile-friendly” designation was issued at the domain level.

 

That’s Not To Say the Mobile Update Had No Impact.

Just because this update hasn’t been the huge game changer it was predicted to be does not mean some sites and keyword spaces haven’t seen significant shake ups to their mobile search landscapes. We knew back when it was first announced that a mobile algorithm update was going to hurt some industries and website types more than others. While the update impacted mobile search results as a whole, the resulting scale of actual organic impression and traffic loss varied from site-to-site, and keyword-to-keyword. Obviously, the larger the percentage of traffic to your site coming from mobile, the more you stood to lose or gain from an overhaul of mobile search results.

It seems like we tend to think about the mobile algorithm update in terms of its potential to negatively impact website’s search visibility. It’s also important to remember that some sites experienced improvement. Mobile-friendly websites operating in keyword spaces with a lot of mobile-unfriendly competitors saw their visibility on mobile searches improve post-launch.

 

So, now what?

If you’re a site that has seen its mobile rankings and traffic take a hit, the good news is that Google appears to be quite forgiving (and quick to re-evaluate) once your mobile usability issues are rectified. In the same article referenced above, Dr. Pete Myers points out that Moz redesigned its blog to be mobile-friendly post-update, and within 24 hours some of the main blog pages had been updated with a “mobile-friendly” tag.

Regardless of the actual impact right now, Google’s message remains clear: as the share of searches performed on mobile increases, mobile usability’s importance as ranking factor will grow with it.Therefore, websites that provide a positive user experience on mobile devices are going to have a clear and growing advantage moving forward.

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