Mobilegeddon is Coming. Are You Ready for the New Google Mobile Algo Update?

Mobilegeddon

With the mobile usage on the rise, it was only a matter of time before Google started considering the needs of mobile searchers as more important.

And that time has come.

There are more signs to justify that decision though.

50% of Google searches are believed to happen on mobile devices.

And mobile search traffic currently makes around 30% of total web traffic (source).

In some cases, it has even exceeded desktop.

Take last year’s Thanksgiving weekend for example. According to IBM, mobile devices drove 52% of US Internet traffic during the shopping weekend. It was the first time mobile devices have outpaced desktops for online browsing.

Google had been following this trend for a while. In November last year the search engine launched mobile-friendly labels in search. Then they began experimenting with mobile friendliness as a ranking factor.

And now they announced a full mobile ranking algorithm.

If you haven’t optimised your site for mobile devices yet, it’s your last chance.

On April 21st Google will start using mobile compliance as a ranking factor.

It means that from that day, if your site isn’t mobile friendly, it will stand no chance to rank for mobile searches.

Let’s examine what we know so far about the upcoming algorithm, see how you can test your site for mobile friendliness and, what are the most typical mistakes that can render it mobile unfriendly.

The Mobilegeddon

Mobile usability has been a ranking factor for quite a while. But up until now the ranking factor was unclear and weak to say the least. We knew that mobile optimised sites could have more chances to rank well. But it has never been entirely clear what factors Google considers when assess a site’s mobile friendliness.

This’s all changed now.

Speaking at SMX Munich last week, Google’s Zineg Ait Bahajji confirmed the upcoming mobile friendly ranking algorithm that since then SEOs have dubbed as “Mobilegeddon”.

Zineg Ait Bahajji also hinted its severity stating that it will have a much greater effect on search results than Panda and Penguin updates had.

But this relates to mobile results only and thus, it should not affect your desktop rankings and traffic.

So far, we don’t know much about the update itself, what new ranking signals it might introduce and how much they are going to affect a website’s rankings.

Given Bahajji’s statements though, it is safe to assume that sites that aren’t mobile friendly will see a significant drop in rankings after April 21st.

How to Test if Your Site is Mobile Friendly

Google offers two tools you can use to test if your site’s mobile-friendliness.

Mobile-Friendly Test. This aptly called tool allows you to test the site and check if it meets initial Google’s mobile friendliness criteria. It seems like a reliable tool that can quickly tell you if your site would pass the new algorithm criteria.

Mobile Usability Report. This is a more thorough review tool that can help you see your site just like Google sees it. It can show you any discrepancies and usability errors the search engines found on your site.

Common Mobile Website Mistakes

In order to help webmasters with transitioning their websites to mobile, Google has sought community advice and compiled a list of the most common mobile SEO mistakes.

You can access the entire document here. To give you a quick overview though, here are the top results:

Blocked JS, CSS or Images

You probably already know that to allow Google to index your site, you need to give a Googlebot access to Javascript, CSS and Image files. Otherwise it will not be able to see your site like a user would.

Many websites however still block access to those resources, rendering many elements on a page unreadable for the bot.

Unplayable Content

Not all content can be played on mobile device. You may be displaying license-constrained videos or require Flash or other players that aren’t widely supported on mobile.

As a result, your mobile visitors will see an error message instead of the content.

And as Google points:

This provides users with a poor mobile experience!”

Here is what the search engine suggests to overcome this problem:

  • Use HTML5 standards for multimedia content to provide equal experience to all users.
  • Embed videos in a way to make them playable on all devices.
  • Have a transcript of video available as well. This way user who can’t watch it at least will be able to familiarise with its content.

Poor Redirects

If you’re using separate URLs for mobile and desktop site, you should ensure that all pages redirect to their appropriate mobile counterparts.

Redirecting them to other pages would in fact be incorrect and again, provided a poor user experience.

faulty-redirects

(Image courtesy: Google)

To check if your site doesn’t have that problem, check the Faulty Redirects section of Smartphone Crawl Errors section of Google Webmaster Tools.

App download interstitials

Some website’s block access to pages by displaying prompts to download their native app. This however disrupts a visitor’s experience.

If you want to promote your app, Google recommends using a simple banner inline with the page’s content. This way the user will still be able to view the page’s content while getting informed about the app.

Slow Mobile Pages

The impact page loading time has on user experience is undeniable. I often cite research by Kissmetrics that found that even a 1-second delay could reduce conversions up to 7%.

To no surprise, users can become frustrated when having to wait to see your content.

If you also consider various situations they might be trying to access your content – in transport, outdoors etc. they might not have enough time to wait for it to load.

Use Google’s Page Speed Insights to assess your sites’s loading time and address whatever issues it finds.

Conclusion

Mobile web is a reality. Desktops are increasingly becoming devices just for working hours. Yet most of our browsing and shopping begins to happen on mobiles.

It’s no surprise then that the search engine takes action to propagate the needs of mobile users ahead of their desktop counterparts.

And as of April 21st if your business hasn’t complied yet, you might see a major drop in rankings and performance.

 

Creative commons image: Gary Nored / Flickr

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