Technology / Business websites

Is your website ready for the Google ‘mobile-friendliness’ update?

In April 2015 Google is launching a major algorithm update that will impact every website in the world. How is your business’s website mobile-friendliness?

9 April 2015 by

Before we dive into the nitty gritty of this latest algorithm update, it’s worth understanding exactly what Google is all about:

Google’s number one goal is to give their users (people who search for things in Google) the best possible user experience. Each time you search for something via their site, they want to deliver the most relevant results for your needs fast, so you can get on with your day as quickly as possible.

Over the past few years, Google has come to recognise that a huge amount of searching is being done via mobile devices. Thus it’s become important to them that if they’re sending someone to your site, your website is easy to view on a mobile device.

This desire for mobile-friendliness underpins this latest update.

So when is this update taking place?

Google have announced that it will be taking place on 21 April. That’s presumably US time and the update is said to be rolling out over a period of days. So here in Australia we might not get the full effect of it until 22 or 23 April. If you monitor the traffic to your website, it would be sensible to pay close attention from 21 April.

This is a good time to take note that Google do not usually announce the specific date of an upcoming update to their ranking algorithm. The fact they have given not only a specific date in this instance, but also so much prior warning, indicates that this particular update is going to be significant.

What elements of my site will Google be looking at?

"Google has recognised a huge amount of search is done via mobile devices today and thus it’s become important to them that your website is easy to view on a mobile device. "

If you’ve ever visited a website on a mobile device and found it doesn’t resize to fit your screen, has barely readable text, and links that are hard to click on, you’ll be familiar with what Google considers ‘poor user-experience’. Google doesn’t want websites that deliver poor user experience showing up in their search results.

Put simply: if your site does not function well on a mobile device, Google will not show it when people search in Google.

Here are some of the elements of mobile-friendliness Google will be looking at:

  • Size of text
  • How easy the font is to read on smaller screens
  • Spacing of your touch elements eg how close links are together
  • Page load time from a mobile device
  • Whether your site is responsive (it changes size depending on the screen size it’s being viewed from)
  • If you have a mobile version of your site, you’ll potentially be penalized if it links through to pages that are not mobile-friendly (very common for mobile versions of websites)

How do you know if you will be impacted?

You can use the Mobile Friendly Test. All you need to do here is enter the URL of any page on your site and you can check each page individually.

If your site has numerous pages, the Mobile Friendly Test can be quite a time-intensive process. Fortunately, Google has a tool to help bulk-check your site.

If your site is setup in Google Webmaster Tools, you can generate a complete site report that will identify how many of your pages (if any) are currently not mobile-friendly and therefore putting your site’s Google rankings at risk of plummeting.

It’s important to note that these tests are not without flaws and you may get a false-positive or false-negative. If you’re at all unsure, check with your web designer or someone that can take a quick look at your site prior to the update.

How might I be impacted?

Officially, 27.51% of internet usage in Australia is done on a mobile device. In some industries, mobile device searches on Google are significantly higher. For example if you offer emergency plumbing services, car towing services and other “I really need help now” types of services, the majority of people that come to your website ready to buy, will be doing so on a mobile device.

It’s unclear yet how this update is going to unfold and impact. If your site is non mobile-friendly we do not know yet whether that means you’re going to take a hit in Google rankings across the board (including for desktop searches), or if it’s only going to be limited to searches on a mobile device.

What’s next?

With an update that shapes to be potentially the biggest of 2015, it’s important to act now and check your site via the resources provided by Google and referenced above.

If you’re unsure of how to do that, reach out to an online marketing professional or your web designer (both of whom will no doubt be very busy over the coming weeks helping people to get their websites update-ready).

Is your site ready for this latest Google update?

Greg Nunan

is an online entrepreneur, former co-owner of a leading Australian gym Franchise group, internet marketing blogger and founder of Winning Edge Digital, where he helps Australian businesses to grow their business online.

Comments

  • John Webster

    WRONG INFO HERE!

    1. Google staff have said that it’s not going to use mobile web page load speed in its mobile phone ranking results. This is crucial because G is ignoring the most important mobile phone performance parameter specified by users. If it is not careful, its “mobile-friendly” tag in search results could become a click aversion signal.

    2. Google staff have also said that a business name search is unlikely to elevate a non-mobile friendly company web page above a mobile-friendly non-company page.

    Huge numbers of mobile searches will be for (company name) +phone or address or directions, etc. It seems these types of searches are unlikely to be impacted by not having a mobile site.

    I believe the author is correct in stating that G wants to deliver “best” search results but for many reasons, it probably finds it impossible to assess the most important one of all – page load speed

    IMHO, for the mobile phone algorithm, the most important ranking parameter is likely to be based on the location of the searcher and destination websites. (G has said that 50% of mobile searchers have a location intent.)

    So, more important questions may be:

    * How are you going to streamline your mobile pages for speed?

    * What types of people will be trying to find your mobile site?

    * What sort of info will mobile searchers want”?

    * How are you going to design and structure your site for mobile users?

    * Are you going to target new users or repeat visitors with your Home page?

    Mobile search traffic referral appears to be very variable. People in the FS forum cite figures ranging from 8% to 50+%.

    How and what people search for on mobile phones appears to be very different from what they do on desktops.

    Regs
    JohnW

    • Greg Nunan

      Hi John,

      Re: “WRONG INFO HERE!”, not sure where the incorrect details in the article are. Remember this was released PRE the update based on the best possible data we could gather at that time.

      Re: “1. Google staff have said that it’s not going to use mobile web page load speed in its mobile phone ranking results. This is crucial because G is ignoring the most important mobile phone performance parameter specified by users. If it is not careful, its “mobile-friendly” tag in search results could become a click aversion signal.” Now that the update has been released, we know that Google based their page load speed off of DESKTOP page load speed. Seems a bit odd, but they presumably do not have a reliable and predictable way to measure mobile page load speed and I would guess that this is due to the vast discrepancies across various mobile devices. I’m not sure it matters though personally…. if pages are taking ages to load for mobile users, then a higher-than-normal number of users will abandon the site quickly, giving Google an indication that the site is not providing a good user-experience. Google gets all this user data remember. So in effect, the way I view this is that although Google is not going to specifically use mobile page load speed in their mobile algorithm, it’s perfectly logical that they can determine whether a site is in fact providing a quality mobile user experience by using data on user experience (eg time on site, dwell time, etc). If user metrics for a site are solid, it indicates to Google that the site is worthy of a high mobile ranking in Google.

      Re: “IMHO, for the mobile phone algorithm, the most important ranking parameter is likely to be based on the location of the searcher and destination websites. (G has said that 50% of mobile searchers have a location intent.)”. Clear evidence to suggest that this is already in place prior to the update. Do a search on a mobile device from two different geographic locations and you’ll likely get different pages showing up in the search results.

      re: “2. Google staff have also said that a business name search is unlikely to elevate a non-mobile friendly company web page above a mobile-friendly non-company page.” That makes total sense for Google to show a company website for a related brand name result. It would be foolish for Google to deliver a site different to what a searcher is clearly looking for. Remember, Google’s goal is to deliver the best possible result for what people are searching for. If someone searches for “McDonalds Sydney CBD”, it makes no sense for them to get a list of nearby Hungry Jacks locations for example. They want Maccas! The main thing for mobile friendliness is not making sure your company website ranks for brand searches where people already know your business, but rather non-brand searches where you can pick-up a potential new customer that has never heard of your business before.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment John.

  • Wendy Messina

    Great article and great comments from John! I’m a small business owner and I’m really annoyed with Google for this. I’m sorry, but 2 months notice is not long enough for businesses to change their websites. I only found out about it 2 weeks ago, and I don’t have a pot of gold sitting there to pay for a website overhaul!! I’ll be watching my Analytics page with interest to see how it affects me. Best of luck to all other small businesses out there who are in the same boat!

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