POV

Google Mobile Algorithm Update

Google Mobile Algorithm Update

Background

Dubbed (again) by many as “The Year of Mobile,” Google has put a greater emphasis on providing mobile-friendly experiences, especially since time spent on smartphones has increased by 394% in the past four years. (Figure 1)

comScore Time Spent on Mobile
Figure 1

 

In a rare move, Google has announced the exact date of their next big algorithm update. Starting April 21, Google will add a mobile-friendly ranking factor to its mobile search algorithm. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in search results. In this update, Google will also begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in Android users who have the app installed. Relevant in-app content will also surface for those users who have not installed the app.

Whether the site has been made mobile-friendly through responsive design or by creating a separate mobile site, the following will be critical ranking factors in this update:

  • Avoid software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
  • Mobile pages should be specified using the meta viewport tag (<meta name=”viewport”) which tells browsers how to adjust to various screen sizes
  • Use text that is readable without zooming; size content so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom; place links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped

Impact on Current Sites

So how might this update impact mobile performance for existing sites? According to Google, this algorithm change will have a “significant” impact on its search results, which may indicate substantial shifts in mobile rankings and organic mobile traffic for sites that are better optimized than their direct and organic competitors. For example, if a competitor’s site has a page that does not pass Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, but a page on your brand.com site, with similar content does, there is an opportunity to increase its mobile keyword rankings, and ultimately increase mobile organic traffic.

However, if your site isn’t mobile ready, all is not lost. The mobile update will not affect all organic traffic outside of desktop traffic — organic tablet traffic, as well as searches for branded queries will not be affected.

Resolution POV:

Though called “mobilegeddon” by many, this update is just another step in the evolutionary path of mobile. Marketers have known for a while that mobile search represents a significant source for content discovery, as evidenced by our Google Mobile Usability Update POV published last December.

Resolution recommends implementing the following items to prepare for this update:

  1. Collect mobile performance baselines from Google Webmaster Tools, along with analytics platforms, and mobile search ranking positions for top terms.
  2. Monitor Mobile Usability errors in Google Webmaster Tools.
  3. Set up App Indexing to maximize search potential on Android devices. App Indexing is a Google feature allowing users the choice to access a brand’s content within an app or website. Oftentimes, content in a mobile app performs faster, allowing the searcher to get what they want even more quickly. App Indexing gives the user a choice to get content in their preferred mobile environment.

The algorithm will run on a page-by-page basis instead of site-wide. As the update rolls out, advertisers should monitor the increase of pages ranking in the mobile SERPS as well as click-through-rate for these pages. Google is also reporting this update will be in “real-time.” The definition for what this means is still somewhat unclear, but “real-time” most likely means when a page transitions to a mobile friendly version, Google will start showing the mobile friendly call out once they crawl and index the page again.

Summary

Mobile search represents a significant source for content discovery. The steps taken by Google reinforce the need for prioritizing mobile accessibility in web presence. While the full impact of the mobile-friendly ranking factor has yet to be established, brands that have focused on the consumers’ mobile experience have positioned themselves for success.

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