On April 21, 2015, Google will be making search algorithm changes to favor mobile-friendly sites. How will this affect your ranking and how should you prepare? Jake McCormick, our Search Marketing Manager, explains the details.
On April 21, Google will release a mobile algorithm update that will be applied exclusively to search results on mobile devices. This change will reward websites that are “mobile-friendly” and easy to use when accessed on mobile devices. It will also demote sites in mobile search results that do not have a mobile version (responsive, adaptive, or “m.” subdomain).
WHY THE CHANGE?
People fundamentally behave differently when accessing the internet on smartphones versus desktop computers. As smartphones continue to grow in popularity as a primary access point to websites and search engines, Google has taken gradual steps towards this significant change. This includes:
- Fetch as Google tool added to Webmaster Tools (May 2014)
- Google adds Mobile Usability Reports to Webmaster Tools (October 2014)
- Adding “mobile-friendly” labels to search results (November 2014)
- Google sends Webmaster Tools and email warnings to non-mobile friendly sites (January 2015)
- Google announces April 21 mobile-friendly ranking update (February 2015)
The “user experience” has grown in its influence as a ranking signal, and is a critical part of this decision. A Google study found that 61% of people will not return to a mobile website that is difficult to browse on their smartphone. Google’s crawler (Googlebot) can also see what a person sees when they come to your website, which means it can identify hard-to-click buttons, small font sizes, and other elements that can lead to frustrated visitors.
WHAT WE KNOW
- The update will go live on Tuesday, April 21, 2015.
- The change is the expansion of mobile-friendliness (mobile usability) as a ranking signal.
- It is ONLY intended for mobile search results – it is NOT intended for mobile websites alone.
- Google Webmaster Tools have been sending out alert messages for websites with mobile usability errors. These messages are not exclusive to non-mobile friendly sites.
- Desktop websites that do not scale to mobile devices (i.e. responsive or a mobile-friendly website) will likely experience a drop in mobile rankings and organic traffic. The potential drop is related to the percentage of organic traffic that the site receives from mobile devices.
what we don’t know
- Google has called the impact “significant”, and has indicated it will have a bigger impact than previous algorithm updates. That said, as with all algorithm updates, we do not know exactly how this will play out.
- We aren’t aware yet of specific mobile ranking signals. This mobile algorithm update is separate from Google’s desktop algorithm, so it may place different values on ranking factors.
what you should be doing
- Do not panic and rush any website changes to meet the deadline, unless you already have a redesign or content migration planned for April.
- Review your Google Webmaster Tools account for mobile usability errors. If NHI has access to your Google Webmaster Tools, we are monitoring these errors as well. A report that identifies your specific errors can be found in Webmaster Tools > Search Traffic > Mobile Usability.
- Address any usability errors in a timely manner, or as time permits.
- If you have a stand-alone mobile website, be sure to review Google Webmaster Tools for both your desktop and mobile websites.
WHAT NHI IS DOING
- If NHI has access to your Webmaster Tools accounts, we will alert you to any potential issues.
- If we have an SEO retainer, we will be tracking your top keywords on both desktop and mobile rankings to measure impact, and discuss our findings during monthly meetings.
- We will provide updates if any significant information is provided. Otherwise, we will provide updates through our regular scheduled meetings.
- We are here for questions.