In February this year, Google announced that it was planning on releasing a new addition to its search algorithm that would change how the search engine evaluated and organised mobile friendly and non-mobile friendly sites.  This would would allow users to find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimised for their devices. Google had previously released a mobile-friendly algorithm back in 2013 which had addressed core issues of accessing a mobile site but it was a lot less documented.

In response to this announcement, the SEO world went into meltdown and the term “Mobilegeddon” quickly spread across social media. Google had been very quiet about previous updates such as Panda and Penguin, so when Google publicly announced the mobile-friendly update, we knew something very important was going to happen.

Despite Google announcing that the update would increase rankings for mobile friendly optimised websites, the focus was strongly on the negative aspect of the announcement which was that the update would decrease rankings of non-mobile-friendly websites. As for the few website owners who had previously invested in making their website more mobile-friendly, they didn’t have very much to worry about.

Google clearly stated that the update would roll out on the 21st of April 2015 which gave webmasters plenty of time to prepare for the update.  They also provided a guide to mobile-friendly sites to help webmaster’s get ready for the change.

Google confirmed in a blog post that the mobile-friendly algorithm update would:

  • Affect search ranking on mobile devices only
  • Affect search results in all languages globally
  • Apply to individual pages and not entire websites

Our response to mobilegeddon

It wasn’t long before mobilegeddon was upon us on the 21st of April and whilst we were desperate to see the immediate effects, we had to wait until the 22nd of April to have a days worth of data to see the true impact. In truth we were not that worried about the negative aspect of the update as we have been delivering optimised mobile-friendly websites since 2009.

We logged into Google Webmaster Tools and used the new search analytics report to view the impact of the mobile-friendly update. Firstly, we looked at the rankings within the Google search engine for mobile to see if there was a clear rise or drop in the rankings of the website.

We then used the search analytics report to view the organic mobile traffic to see if there was a clear rise or drop in the amount of organic mobile traffic.

As you can see from the data there was virtually no major difference in traffic.  This was the same for fellow webmasters who were reporting what impact it had on their websites in the Google Webmaster Tools forums. Many believed that no update had been rolled out as there were very few signs of the so called "Mobilegeddon" with the majority of websites.

Google stated that you won’t necessarily see an immediate impact and that it will “be a week or more before it makes its way to all pages in the index” and on the 1st of May, Google confirmed that the mobile-friendly algorithm update had fully rolled out to all data centres and was fully in place. It was time to go back and view the real impact the mobile-friendly update had on our client’s websites.

Again, we used the same two search analytics reports in Google Webmaster Tools to check the impact of the mobile-friendly update and again we saw similar results that the update had had no major effect on our client’s websites in terms of organic mobile rankings or levels of traffic.

As with all Google updates, there were winners and losers. Searchmetrics reported that on the 25th of April, popular news website had seen a 28% loss in mobile visibility while on the other side of the scale, had seen a 420% increase in mobile visibility.

For the majority of websites the reality of the update was slightly less dramatic, at least not what was expected to happen during the dreaded “mobilegeddon.”

Many people did take the announcement seriously and Google reported that come 21st April, there were 4.7% more mobile friendly websites than there was before the announcement and this figure is set to increase over the coming year. In reality, Google’s announcement simply prompted website owners to do what they should have back done in 2009 which was to make their website mobile friendly.

The aftermath

Whilst the majority of websites have seen very little impact after the mobile-friendly update, the update is a clear sign that mobile is extremely important to Google. During the AdWords Livestream 2015 on May 5th, Google stated that mobile searches had now exceeded desktop searches in 10 countries, including the USA, Canada and Japan, which shows the sheer growth of mobile searches over the past couple of years.

During the same webinar, Google’s Jerry Dischler, Vice President of Product Management for Google AdWords, spoke about times in the day consumers turn to Google for “I want-to know, I want-to-go, and I want-to-buy moments” and stated that at these key times in the user journey, consumers are increasingly picking up their smart phones for answers. Consumer now have higher expectations than ever, particularly on mobile devices and they want everything right, and they “want everything the right way.” Companies who are optimising the mobile experience are winning during these moments.

It is important to remember to optimise mobile experiences for conversions. Mobile ad spend is expected to reach $100 billion in 2016 and expected to double to nearly $200 billion between 2016 and 2019. So, if customers are able to make a purchase on your website, the mobile check out process should be second only in priority to making your entire website mobile friendly. If your website goals are lead generation, it is still important that you optimise your website for mobile lead generation.

With this kind of data its clear to see why Google are regarding mobile so highly and if we want to maintain or increase our visibility in the Google mobile search results, then we need to stay up to date with Google’s algorithm.

How to check if google thinks your website is mobile friendly

You can test your website through Google’s mobile-friendly test to see what Google thinks of your website. It is important to note that the tool works on a page by page basis, just as the mobile-friendly update works and does not give an overall result on your website.

You can also use the search analytics report in Google Webmaster Tools to go back and see what impact the mobile friendly update had on your website as we did for our clients.

Log in To GWT, select “Search Traffic” on the left hand side and then select “Search Analytics”

To filter for organic rankings on mobile devices, select Position in the main navigation and then filter devices by mobile device.

To view data on organic clicks on a mobile device, simply select the clicks option in the main navigation to the left of position.

A recent feature in Google Webmaster Tools called the Mobile Usability report is now available and will highlight mobile usability issues Google has with your site. This is Google telling you how to improve your mobile website for its algorithm and should be the starting block for increasing the mobile friendliness of your website.

On the left hand side column in GWT select “Search Traffic” and then select “Mobile Usability.”

As you can see from the table above, GWT provide a list of usability errors, how many pages have that error, a list of pages with that error and once you click on that error you will see the following:

Whatever your next steps are, it’s important that mobile is incorporated into your business strategy and you begin to focus on the users mobile experience on your website.

Contact us for more advice on Google’s mobile-friendly update.


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