Mobilegeddon. Mopocalypse. These terms show the panic some feel in the face of Google's mobile-friendly update, due to affect search results from April 21. This latest update was announced in February. It shouldn't have come as a surprise, because Google has been talking about becoming mobile-friendly for some time now. As the Google announcement pointed out, Google has continually adapted its algorithms to account for the fact that more people are using mobile devices.
How this update will affect your business? What steps should be taken? How to avoid mistakes while working on site's mobile-friendliness?
We asked the experts the most frequently asked questions regarding new update to one of the best expert in industry — all you need to know about new era of mobile search you'll find in this post.
We are glad to introduce our guest experts:
What is going to change when mobile-friendly factors are added into Google Search algorithm?
In their February 26th announcement, Google indicated that they are “expanding their use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.” This implies that their mobile search algorithm already considers mobile-friendly factors. However, the fact that they provided what many consider a deadline for transitioning website properties to mobile, it seems this update will be very disruptive and result in a significant change in Google’s mobile search results. For example, there are many instances where desktop sites currently outrank mobile-friendly sites in mobile search. After April 21st, this most likely will no longer be the case.
The main change will be that the update improves rankings for websites that deliver a mobile-friendly experience and demote websites that fail to offer that experience when searching on mobile devices. With that being said, there are a few other things to consider with this update: It only affects mobile search results not searches that are conducted on desktop machines.
Google announced that this is a worldwide update meaning that it will roll out globally all at once instead of just US first.
This is a page-by-page update meaning that each page on your website is judged separately. If you have some pages that are not mobile-friendly it won’t affect the site as a whole, just those particular pages.
Initially this update is a yes or no update which means that all Google is looking for is to determine whether a website is or isn’t mobile-friendly. However, it is expected that as future updates roll out, the mobile algorithm will evolve to include more mobile usability issues that are seen within your webmaster tools account.
Who will be the most affected by the so-called impending mobilepocalypse?
Site owners in industries where the percent of total traffic coming from smartphones is more than 50%, and who do not have a mobile-friendly site. As I said recently in Search Engine Land, sites that don’t currently get a lot of smartphone search traffic could lose much less traffic as a result of this update than people in industries like mine where more than 50% of search traffic comes from smartphones.
Likewise, site owners who compete in search results where they are the last holdout in their competitive set will stand to lose more than industries where the majority of the most authoritative, most relevant sites that appear now in search results are not mobile-friendly.
If this update is about Google using mobile usability as a factor in ranking, I think it’s unlikely that not being mobile-friendly would cause a dominant site currently ranking at #1 to be supplanted by 9 sites currently ranking below it that happened to be mobile friendly — especially if the first listing was the most authoritative, most relevant result for the query. Still, if you have fewer competitors who are mobile-friendly in your niche there’s less of a chance that you will lose traffic to them as a result of this change, so sites that are the last of their competitive set to go mobile will likely be more affected by this update.
What are common mistakes people make when making their existing site mobile-friendly?
Rachel Gordon Lindteigen
Common mistakes people make when trying to make their existing sites mobile-friendly include forgetting about page load speed, not thinking about the end user and their needs when browsing on a mobile device, ignoring Schema markup, and finally, not adapting fast enough or completely enough. Keep your target audience and their needs in mind and you’ll be more successful. Ask yourself why they’re looking for your information on their mobile device, is there something they need to access easily and quickly or are they likely just browsing.
Well, Google has listed a ton of them on their developer site, so I would advise people to check there first. The important thing to remember is that you can make mistakes regardless of what site configuration you use, so you shouldn’t think that responsive web design is a silver bullet to mobile SEO success just because it is the method preferred by Google.
In fact, slow loading pages is a more common problem for responsive sites because of images than it is for m dot sites in my experience. The picture element is a new development that’s meant to fix this, but it’s not widely supported by browsers, and not currently by Google search.
Another problem I’ve seen that’s rarely mentioned in Google documents is failure to make all content on a responsive site adaptive. A year ago Microsoft had a responsive site where a user could follow a link to free downloads and be directed to a page dedicated to downloads for a PC. When I’m on an Android device or an iPhone, downloads means something else entirely. The best sites understand this and either make a page that’s relevant to many devices (as Microsoft has since), or deliver many pages with user agent redirects.
What platforms or content management systems work best for mobile-friendliness? How can you evaluate their mobile-friendliness before implementing them?
At this point a lot of the major CMSs have solutions for making content mobile that are easy to implement. If you have a WordPress site, as I do for my own personal site, there are many responsive themes you can choose from, and most of those have examples that you can look at on a smartphone or enter in Google’s mobile-friendly tool to see how it complies with Google’s mobile-friendly standards.
If you do have a common CMS like Joomla, WordPress or Drupal, use this resource from Google to find dedicated guides to mobile-friendly content for each.
If you don’t use a common CMS, you should ask your provider what their solution is for making content mobile-friendly, and ask them for a sample of a site that used their solution so you can check its mobile-friendliness with Google’s tool. If you’re making a custom CMS, Google has also listed their requirements for mobile-friendly content so that you can build something that easily complies.
You know I’m a WordPress junkie. In fact, I only build on WordPress, period. It’s simple to make any site mobile-friendly, just by choosing a responsive theme.
Two I use often and really dig are Responsive from CyberChimps, which is a free WordPress theme, but I’m really liking Divi from Elegant Themes, which is a paid theme. I’ve been using that one quite a lot, too. Both are clean so that you can make them as simple or as complicated as you like and they come mobile-friendly right out of the box.
I’d also say that if you have lots of shiny stuff on your site, like sliders, tabs, accordion or parallax elements, those could be trouble. Make sure they’re mobile-friendly. If they’re not and you’re on WordPress, it’s easy to go out and find replacements that are.
What are some last-minute changes a webmaster can implement to make a website mobile-friendly?
Depending on how your website is built and who is doing your development, you have a few options.
If you are running WordPress and your specific site layout is not heavily customized, you could just try a new theme that is mobile responsive. But, still test it afterwards as mobile responsive themes are not going to solve all your mobile issues. Some content may be in HTML tables for instance, which rarely scale at smaller (mobile) sizes. There are a whole range of such issues, but most modern websites don't suffer from them anymore.
Another option is to get a developer involved and try to add some media queries at most of the key size differentiators (mobile, tablet, PC). If you are lucky, and the structure of your website is already quite solid, this could turn out to be only a few days work. This is a best case scenario.
Some people opt to go with a separate mobile website, but if you do not already have one, I would not recommend this as a solution as it is a) separate; b) often contains duplicate information; c) difficult to maintain.
Before making any changes, review your analytics and determine what percentage of your traffic currently comes from mobile search. This will help you gauge how urgent of an issue the upcoming mobile algorithm update is for you. If your website receives a significant share of traffic from mobile search, then making your website mobile-friendly should be a high priority. If mobile search is not a significant contributor of traffic to your website, then you can relax. However, mobile-optimizing your site to cater to a growing mobile audience should still be a priority within the near future.
If you do receive enough mobile search traffic to warrant this being a top priority, avoid making any rash decisions that you’ll regret in the long run, like scrapping your professionally designed desktop site for a canned mobile-friendly site. Mobile-friendly is a broad term, and not all mobile-friendly websites are created equal. Take your time, and invest in a website solution that provides your audience with not only a great mobile-experience, but a great cross-device experience. This will provide you with much greater returns in the long run than something quick and cheap that ultimately results in engagement and conversion issues.
If your resources are more strapped or you don’t have the available funds to develop something internally, try using some mobile website builders such as: DudaMobile, MinoMobile, or WPTouch. Each of these can turn your existing website into a mobile-friendly website very quickly for minimal fees.
This is highly recommended because at the very least it can get your website mobile-friendly in time for the update, and in the meantime will allow you to develop something more custom if needed.
What's in your mobilepocalypse toolkit?
Rachel Gordon Lindteigen
My mobilepocalypse tool kit is mostly data. In order to know if my client has a mobile-friendly website, I use the Google Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. From there, I can determine whether or not there is an issue. If there is an issue, then I want to look at the analytics to determine the overall % of traffic from mobile for the site and start reviewing the top-performing pages. The good news about the mobile algorithm update is that Google’s saying it will work on a page-by-page basis.
The entire website doesn’t have to be ready on 4/21; if you start working on the most important pages you can roll the improvements out in phases and be OK. As new mobile-friendly pages are updated, they’ll be crawled again by Google. It’s a pretty straight forward process to determine and resolve mobile-friendly issues:
- Use the Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool to determine if you have an issue.
- If you have an issue, use analytics (% of traffic from mobile devices) — How big is your issue? How important is this to your site?
- Use analytics (top-performing pages) to determine where to place your focus first.
- Make top-performing pages mobile-friendly.
- Retest on the Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool to make sure your changes worked.
For myself and my clients, it is quite simple. We are all mobile-ready because I do not develop non-responsive sites and have been in this mode for at least 2 years.
However, the first part of the equation is whether this is a big issue for your business at all. I would begin by checking in Google Analytics (or whatever tool you use) to see how much impact mobile has on your traffic. I would guess that it is at minimum 20%, so I rarely tell people to ignore this issue. But without checking yourself, you never actually know. So go check, right now.
In terms of fixing your website, you do not need many tools to solve this problem — simply run your key pages and at least one post through the Google Mobile Test and visually you can either use something like ResponsivePx to test how your pages scale, or the recently released media query tools within the Chrome browser developer tools.
The rest is "simple" developer know-how. (Of course it is not that simple, or else I would be out of a job :>)
How this update will influence local mobile SEO strategy?
In local search, we've been dealing with drastic changes to mobile results for a while. If your business information is accurate and you've taken the necessary steps to play in the local ecosystem, this update likely won't hurt you much. The reason for this is because organic results are already pushed off the page in most cases by the local info. Potential customers will get your name, directions, hours, menu (for restaurants), phone number and other information without ever visiting your site.
I do believe that a lot of small businesses that DO rely on their sites for more detailed information could be hurt by this. Many times these small businesses don't have the time or the resources to update their sites regularly.
Is your website ready for Google's mobile algorithm? Let us know what actions and updates you've taken in the comments!