Google recently announced its latest search algorithm update launching on April 21, 2015. It will rank your site based on its ability to give mobile users the information they’re seeking, which Google refers to as “mobile friendliness.” In contrast to previous algorithm upgrades, such as Panda (Site Quality) and Penguin (Bad Link Penalties) which were unleashed on the web without prior notice, Google has been busy for months alerting webmasters of the upcoming April release, lending further credit to the impact this update will have on businesses.
For example, you may have had the same experience as one of our clients. An email from Google Webmaster Tools came to them in mid-February. It said:
“Google systems have tested 12 pages from this site and found that 100% of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors on these 12 pages severely affect how mobile users are able to experience your website. These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.”
As well, perhaps you’ve noticed that when you conduct a Google search from a mobile device most listings that appear display the short label “Mobile-friendly.” Following the April 21st release you can expect all the mobile search results that rank on mobile search organically to eventually be tagged with “mobile-friendly.” It’s possible that in a year or two the mobile-friendly label will be removed because webmasters worldwide will have adjusted their sites to accommodate the ever-growing number of mobile users. Sites being mobile-friendly will become the norm.
You might be asking what impact this new algorithm will have on your website and your business.
- How can I determine if my site is mobile-friendly?
- Will I lose my position in the search results for mobile users after April 21st?
- What can I do to make my site mobile-friendly?
- What must I do if my site was built using a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla, Weebly or Webs.com?
Do you have some of these concerns? Let’s take a closer look.
How Can I Determine If My Site Is Mobile-Friendly?
You can use any (or a combination) of three different approaches.
- Google provides a simple tool that evaluates a given URL to determine if it is mobile-friendly. The “Awesome. This page is mobile-friendly” rating is what you’re looking for. However, take note: The tool only evaluates a single page, not the entire site. To check your entire site, you’d have to enter the URL for each and every page. For large sites that’s a time-consuming task. Need help determining if your site is mobile-friendly? We’d be happy to help.If the URL’s you check are not mobile-friendly, the tool will give you specific advice on what features of your site failed to pass inspection. Typical advice can include:
- Text too small to read
- Links too close together
- Mobile viewport not set
- Content wider than screen, and others
- As an alternative to the Google tool, you can search for your site on Google using a mobile device (as opposed to simply entering your site URL into a browser). If you see the “Mobile-Friendly” notation, Google has already crawled your site and declared it so. However, until the new algorithm is fully released, there’s no guarantee Google has analyzed your site.
- If you have a Webmaster Tools account, Google now provides a mobile usability report that includes guidance on how to bring your site into compliance. Take note, though, that details in that report reflect only the last crawl Google made across your site. If you have recently made changes to bring your site into compliance with mobile friendliness, you may have to wait until the next crawl to see the results.
Finally, another tool known as PageSpeed Insights addresses the speed at which a URL loads, which is one of the signals Google uses to rank pages (both for mobile and desktop access). Again, this tool checks only one specific page at a time.
If your business website depends heavily on mobile traffic we would recommend that you do a thorough test of your site using a combination of these tools to ensure that you will not get penalized on April 21st.
What Happens After April 21st? Will I Lose Traffic?
Unlike many earlier algorithm updates that caused webmasters a lot of consternation and scrambling to regain the favorable ranking in search engine results, the mobile-friendly update will affect only those searching from a mobile device. The website you maintain for desktop search will not be affected.
Google uses more than 200 “signals” when analyzing a site to determine its ranking. The mobile-friendly update is but one of those, and it appears to be a “binary” signal. A given page is either mobile-friendly, or it is not. When it is not, that page will not appear near the top of a mobile search, but the new algorithm will not affect other ranking factors applied to desktop search.
The question of whether you’ll lose traffic depends on the percentage of visitors who search from a mobile device. For instance, if only two percent of your visitors reach you from a smartphone or tablet, and if your site is not mobile-friendly by the deadline, you may expect to see a drop that somewhat corresponds to that figure. Clearly, if a large percentage of visitors arrive using a mobile device, the impact can be significant. This could have a very strong impact on many small and local businesses that depend on phone calls and users looking for businesses nearby on their mobile device.
Yet the algorithm update leaves room for some good news, even if you’re not ready with your site by April 21st. The mobile-friendly spider does not proclaim that an entire website passes inspection. Instead, it renders a judgment on each page of the site. That means you can focus your resources on updating the most important pages first—product pages, shopping cart and eCommerce pages and others that are critical for converting visitors to customers—thereby keeping a favorable ranking for mobile searches and maintaining your revenue stream.
What Can I Do to Make My Site Mobile-Friendly?
Google’s best and most consistent advice to webmasters continues today: Build your site to give your users the best possible user experience. The company provides guidance and tools to help you accomplish that ultimate goal. The Principles of Site Design covers nearly 30 topics, of which seven relate specifically to mobile usability. Another resource, Mobile Friendly Websites offers step-by-step help for achieving mobile friendliness.
You can also check out our do-it-yourself website builder that we put together for our clients with these ranking factors in mind. All of our design templates are easy to edit and come with responsive design. A cost effective solution to making the transition to mobile.
What Must I Do if My Site Was Built Using a Content Management System (CMS)?
A number of CMS providers offer mobile friendliness right out of the box. Two of the most popular include Weebly.com and Webs.com. If you already built your site with either of those, your site is virtually assured of passing Google’s inspection. If you’re looking for a do-it-yourself website builder to adapt to this change, try a 14-day free trial of our easy-to-use site builder, or contact us so we can help you evaluate your website needs.
For sites built with professional development tools, Google offers detailed instructions for achieving mobile friendliness using any of eleven CMS systems, including Drupal, WordPress, Joomla and others.
Google’s Mobile-Friendly Update is for Users
As noted earlier, Google’s algorithms evaluate more than 200 features of a website. While the company will not reveal what they are, SEO experts have deduced many of them. The speed at which a site loads, the quality of its content, links to it from other sites — Google considers these and others as “signals” that define the relevance of a site to any specific search. Now, mobile friendliness is being added to that list of signals and it’s being given a lot of weight in their algorithm. When a mobile user conducts a search, friendliness will be essential to find a dominant place in the search results pages.
As technology continues to advance you can be certain Google’s algorithms will evolve, always with the goal of giving users the most relevant, high quality search results. I hope (and suspect) this mobile friendliness update, and Google’s substantial effort to help webmasters achieve friendliness, will become the model for future updates as well. After all, a company so deeply invested in search and so dominant in the industry needs webmasters to build sites that follow specific guidelines. In a sense, Google is building a partnership with webmasters worldwide.
Finally, if you’re interested in the big picture surrounding mobile search, check out Google’s The Mobile Playbook: The Busy Executive’s Guide to Winning with Mobile, an investigation of five key issues that every business should consider. Then, to hear specific answers from representatives of the Google search team, check out an hour-long G+ Hangout that took place on March 25, 2015.