Google's Mobile Madness: What you need to know

April 21, 2015

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Google recently announced that they would “be expanding [their] use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.” According to the announcement these changes will be implemented in all languages around the globe, and they “will have a significant impact in [Google’s] search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.” This will impact how websites will be ranked on smartphones and tablets, and could affect businesses that don’t have sites optimized for small screens with characteristics such as text size that’s easy to read on small screens, well spaced links, and mobile-friendly plug ins. If customers have to scroll left or right, zoom, and/or turn their phone horizontally to read a site’s text or see its images, that site is not optimized. A test provided by Google to test sites can be found here.

It is interesting to note that while Google is constantly making updates and tweaks, they rarely announce them. There are resources such as The Google Webmaster Guidelines and public interactions with key team members that allow us to follow the changes that occur to a certain degree, but this particular announcement was very explicit, which adds to our belief that this can be significant for our clients. In fact, at a panel at SMX Munich, Google’s Zineb Ait Bahajji, from the Webmaster Trends Team, was quoted as saying that this upcoming update will be bigger than Google Panda and Penguin updates, two previous powerful algorithm updates that impacted about 12% and 4% of queries respectively.

Mobile searches continue to increase; the numbers vary somewhat depending on the source, but current stats indicate that at least 30% of traffic originates from mobile devices. The message we get from all this information is that there is now a real necessity for websites to be mobile friendly. While Google’s update is only going to affect mobile searches for now, desktop results will remain unchanged, more and more people turn to their mobile devices to search for information they use on their purchasing decisions, which can mean that lower rankings on mobile searches could translate to ultimate losses for businesses. It is important for businesses to move with their costumers. As consumers migrate towards mobile technology, businesses need to work so that they can provide the best mobile experience to all visitors.

Pedro, our lead designer, is a huge kiteboarding fan. At time of writing the top four results from a quick search of “twin tip boards” were from companies such as sbckiteboard.com, northkiteboarding.com, realwatersports.com, and getboards.com. Looking at these links on Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test we can see that after today (April 21st), sbckiteboard’s page will not be the top result as it is not mobile ready, which could impact its traffic. These changes can ultimately make a difference on where customers spend their money; as we previously mentioned, our mobile devices are increasingly a key factor in our purchasing decisions, so businesses need to make sure they provide customers with the best all around experience in the constant effort to increase loyalty, retention, and sales.

Websites that are responsive and scale dynamically based on the size of the device used to access it are ready for this update. It is possible that really old websites need a major overhaul to be mobile-friendly, but there are different avenues that can be explored depending on each site’s needs, Google is not demanding a specific kind of mobile-friendliness. A positive aspect of Google’s approach with this update is that it will look at sites not only on their entirety, but also page by page, so an entire domain is not going to be flagged as not mobile-friendly if only a page fails the test. Taking this into account a good starting point could be making sure that the major pages in a website, such as e-commerce pages for example, are mobile friendly.

As we mentioned the update will roll out today (April 21st) and will happen over a few days so make sure your website is ready for these changes and remember we are always here to help. Even if you are not ready today, you can update your site and your ranking will go back to normal once Google indexes it again.