Last week, on the 21st of April, the moment was finally there. Mobilegeddon had arrived! Google updates its algorithm every now and then to make sure that whatever it is you’re searching for turns up in the first sets of search results.
Earlier there were already the Google Panda, Google Penguin and Google Hummingbird updates But the update from last week is specially focused around mobile. As of the 21st of April, Google is punishing websites that aren’t mobile-friendly and it’s ranking sites that are labeled as mobile-friendly higher on mobile results.
A brief history of Google Algorithm updates
In February 2011, Google released Google Panda. Panda aimed to rank sites of low-quality or “thin sites” lower in the search results. As a return of the update, higher quality sites would rank higher. Google has their own Quality Rating program for this, the program answers such questions as “would I trust this with my credit card?”, all of these questions would end up in helping Google to distinguish the difference between high and low-quality sites.
On the 24th of April 2012, Google let Google Penguin loose upon the world. Google Penguin aimed at decreasing search engine rankings of websites that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. One of the way to rank higher in search engine ranking before the Penguin update was using black-hat SEO techniques. Things like manipulating the number of links pointing to your site (using “spam” websites and letting lots of these sites link to your domain), or using lots of keyword phrases on your website trying to link higher in rankings was now a thing of the past.
In the summer of 2013, Google released Google’s Hummingbird. Google’s Hummingbird was all around context. It is judging context, and with that Google is trying to judge the intent of a person carrying out a search query, and determining what you are trying to search for. The algorithm pays more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query is taking into account. Hummingbird is aimed at making interactions more human — capable of understanding the concepts and relationships between keywords.
And now there is a new update, making sure that with the rise of all mobile devices everyone searching on mobile gets the content they want and is easily viewable on your mobile device.
What makes a website “mobile-friendly”?
Last February, Google did something which they’ve never done before, they announced an upcoming update to their searching algorithm. However, the update was then already in progress for some time. Google started labeling sites as “mobile-friendly” from November 18th to denote those that are optimised for phones.
A website is eligible to receive the classification “mobile-friendly” if it meets the following criteria as detected in real time by Googlebot:
- Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
- Uses text that is readable without zooming
- Sizes content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
- Place links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped
Google is now using the “mobile-friendly” label as a ranking factor across all languages worldwide and to make it more interesting; the update applies to individual pages, not entire websites. As a result, searchers will end up on with search results leading to websites where the text is readable without tapping or zooming, tap targets are spaced appropriately, and the page avoids unplayable content or horizontal scrolling.
Google was expecting that the update with having significant impact on your search results, however since this algorithm is only targeted to mobile searches, it doesn’t have an impact on desktop and tablet search results.
If you run a website, whether it is for your business or for personal use, you might have already seen an impact in your search results, specifically any you receive from Google’s mobile search site. In theory results would go down if your pages are not mobile optimised and up when your pages are optimised for mobile.
Lots of sites have been working hard over the last couple of weeks to make their pages mobile friendly. If you are running WordPress and you bought yourself a decent theme, or even downloaded from the many available free themes out there it might be that you have nothing to fear about. If you want to make sure that you have nothing to fear, Google provided practical pointers in February already to do some quick tests:
- Check if your site is mobile-friendly by running the Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test on your web pages.
- Get a full list of mobile usability issues across your site using the Mobile Usability Report.
- Refer to the developer guide for more information and tips.
Preparing for Future Updates
Does your site meet the Mobile-Friendly test? Even if your site makes the grade today, there’s no guarantee that it will continue to stand up to future changes. Staying on top of mobile search trends needs to be a priority item. Mobile designs may not be fully compatible with future mobile browsers or devices. Responsive websites, on the other hand, will most likely be able to work with newer browsers and devices, so they’re more of a one-time investment.
Our advice would be to use a responsive website, it might be a bit more expensive to start with, but in the end you don’t need to maintain two versions of your website (with potential bad downgrading in search with duplicate content if you don’t utilise canonical tags pointing to the Desktop URL to prevent duplicate mobile pages in search results). Whatever you do always keep the visitor in the back of your mind. At the moment 60% of all traffic on Google in already on mobile, and the only things Google tries to do with all its search engine upgrade is to give the searcher the best content for what he or she was looking for.
If you make your website user-friendly, helpful, and relevant you will always have the opportunity to rank higher in Google’s organic search results regardless of the website type.
How did the latest Google update effect your search rankings? Were you already prepared? Did you see a drop in traffic after the 21st of April? Got some other tips to share? Leave them in the comments so we can all benefit from them!