What is the Mobile Friendly Update and should we be worried that people in the industry are calling it ‘mobilegeddon’?
DW: Perhaps! In a nutshell, Google has made the decision to clean up its mobile rankings by introducing an algorithm update that penalises any website that doesn't offer its users a good mobile experience and promotes those that do. In other words, responsive websites or those with a dedicated mobile version will soon become more prominent in mobile search results and others are likely to fall.
An additional change is to introduce more relevant app content into its search results. Signed-in users with apps installed may start to see that content appearing when they search.
Will this affect tablets as well as mobile?
DW: No. At this stage, it will only affect mobile search results. However, depending on its success, tablets could be next on Google's list.
Why has Google introduced this update?
DW: Google has described the Mobile Friendly Update as “two important changes to help users discover more mobile-friendly content”. The last few years have seen mobile traffic soar and, with voice search uptake increasing, it’s only set to grow in the years to come. Google's focus is to provide its users with the sites that have the best usability and the most relevant content to improve their experience and consolidate its position as their preferred search engine.
How big a hit can brands with a non mobile-friendly website expect?
DW: There’s a strong possibility you’ll see yourself fall in the mobile rankings, with optimised sites elevated above you. However, Google has been quick to point out that mobile-friendliness is just one of a variety of signals to rank search results – “The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal — so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query.”
That said, many forecast that this could have a bigger impact than previous Google updates. It is expected to affect more businesses than Penguin or Panda – including over 40% of Fortune 500 Websites. Those two updates focused on penalising websites that had attempted to manipulate the system with bad links and bad content. Whereas, in this case, website owners haven’t done anything wrong. They’ve just not made that decision to build a mobile site soon enough to fulfil Google’s new criteria.
With 80% of internet users owning a smartphone, is there a reason why brands wouldn't have a mobile-friendly site by now?
DW: It could be that they have a small mobile audience and are waiting to get to a threshold point before investing. Or perhaps they need to hit that threshold before securing the internal buy-in required to make a change. Alternatively, it may be that they simply don’t have the budget at this time.
What would be your advice for brands that aren't sure if they have been affected?
DW: Your Google Webmaster Tools account will provide a full list of mobile usability issues on your site. Next, use the Google Mobile Testing Tool over a cross-section of your pages; not just your homepage. Check the Google Site Speed Checker to see if your site performs well on mobile. Do a manual check on mobile to see if Google recognises your site as being ‘mobile-friendly’ – this will be visible in the search results under your URL. And, finally, check your analytics to see if there has been a change in your traffic levels from mobile. Even looking at month-on-month data should provide some indication if your site has been impacted.
How soon can brands expect to see an impact?
DW: If you've been tracking your mobile rankings before the new update, you can check now and see if there is an immediate change. However, it may take weeks to bed in so there could well be a lot of fluctuation in the short-term.
If all signs point to a brand’s site being penalised, what can they do?
DW: In the first instance, talk to your digital agency. Or, if you have separate SEO and web development partners, get them talking. The change starts with the way the site is built, but there are actions your SEO agency can take to ensure your content is mobile-friendly. It may not need a complete redevelopment either, but it’s important to discuss all of your options. The complexity of your site will dictate how much investment is required.