If you own or administrate a website there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Google’s mobile friendly update. Over the last few weeks we have fielded a lot of questions from clients and seen a significant increase in work as a result of this update. That’s great of course, but we’ve also received numerous cold-emails from web individuals, teams and automated bots talking up the impacts of the change to the extreme – and, of course, claiming they can resolve any issues overnight.
We’ve had clients forward quite scarily worded marketing emails to us, rightfully concerned that their site is about to vanish from search rankings to never return – unless they get the quick fix being sold.
With all these warnings, sensationalist ‘mobilegeddon‘ style articles, and cold-contacts from teams claiming critical flaws and urgent fixes, it’s easy to be swept up in the hysteria and make the wrong decision for your website.
In light of all this, we’ve decided to put together a fact-based article explaining exactly what the mobile update will mean for your site, how to identify issues for yourself using Google’s own tools (rather than trust the assertion of a third party), and detail how to get any issues addressed. We’ve divided this into four easy chunks.
Should you worry about Google’s mobile friendly update? No, provided that you’re properly informed and understand what it will and won’t mean for your business.
1. What is the Google Mobile Friendly Update?
You don’t need to go far to find out exactly what Google’s mobile update involves, which came into effect on the 21st April.
The mega-corp have been very careful to provide in-depth information and resources to help webmasters understand what the update is, what it does, and how to benefit from it. Their latest blog post on the update describes it like so:
We’re boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results.
That’s it in a nut-shell. It is not a penalty and you can benefit from it by making your site mobile friendly.
The blog expands on that a little though:
Now searchers can more easily find high-quality and relevant results where text is readable without tapping or zooming, tap targets are spaced appropriately, and the page avoids unplayable content or horizontal scrolling.
In other words: This update should result in sites which are mobile-friendly being ranked more favorably than sites which are not – this only affects mobile search results, not normal desktop search results. Mobile currently accounts for roughly 40% of searches.
2. Who Will the Mobile Update Affect, and How Significantly?
Google has made it clear that the update will be applicable to every website. Whether that translates into an appreciable change in rankings or profit/loss for your organization is another matter which we will address in a moment. The update roll out will happen over several weeks, starting from today.
We can go straight to Google for our our first (big!) clue on how significantly the update will affect search engine rankings:
While the mobile-friendly change is important, we still use a variety of signals to rank search results. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal — so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query.
In other words, mobile friendliness is important, but not critical; Google uses several hundred metrics to position a page in seach results and mobile-friendliness is about to be added to that mix of metrics. It will be important for mobile search results, but is just one of a few hundred metrics measured when ranking search results for a particular keyword. Until we begin seeing new results, we can’t say for sure quite how much impact it will have, but this guidance suggests a balanced view is sensible.
Based on the guidance that this update will only affect mobile search (which accounts for roughly 40% of total search volume) we can imagine some impact scenarios:
Let’s imagine for a moment that SwankyApple.com isn’t mobile optimised.
This means our search engine page results will not benefit from being mobile. In an extreme case we could imagine our keyword “shopify design devon“, for which we rank 5th, moving to 15th position.
The simplest explanation of this event is that all 10 closest competitors below 5th place all have mobile optimised sites when our 5th position result does not, and that all the hundreds of other ranking metrics are only minorly distinguishable.
Dropping from 5th to 15th would mean our results total click-share on mobiles would drop from around 2% to 0.2% (based on this total search CTR study) for a given keyword. That’s disappointing of course, but considered in light of the extreme nature of the scenario, the unaffected 60% of search results for desktop searches, and varying relevance for hundreds of other mobile keywords, the overall visitor drop for the vast majority of non-mobile friendly sites will be measured in 1’s, rather than 10’s of percentage points. This scenario is true for the vast majority of potential keyword searches.
Our message then resonates with Google’s own: While this update is significant and important for the shape of the web and the end-user experience, the impact to the majority of sites will be a net positive or negative of a few percentage points.
Of course that matters – there will be winners and losers – but it’s not the doomsday scenario being talked-up by so many news sources and marketing emails.
3. How Can You Check Your Site for Mobile Friendliness?
So, having put the real impact in perspective, let’s look at how to gain back those few percent of visitors and perhaps gain a few positions on our competitors!
Firstly, you can visit Google’s own mobile checking tool. Enter your main domain name (for example swankyapple.com) and click the Analyze button. The result given here will tell you whether Google considers your homepage to be mobile friendly or not. If your homepage is mobile friendly then it’s unlikely you’ll need to do anything else.
If you feel that some internal pages of your site are not mobile friendly, then you can test those specific page URLs or contact us for a full test of all pages. Rankings will be calculated on a per-page basis, so if your site is generally mobile optimised, but one or two pages are not, the mobile update will only negatively impact the rankings of those specific pages.
4. Should You Worry About Google’s Mobile Friendly Update if Your Site Isn’t Mobile Friendly?
You’ll need the help of a web development expert to either modify your sites code architecture to make it responsive or, if you are on Shopify, in some instances we can provide our own custom app which generates a mobile only version of your site. This is less preferable but has a much lower upfront cost than the re-architecting. Do feel free to contact us to talk about our services in either area.
Soon after your site is mobile friendly Google will re-index it and it will be re-ranked in mobile search accordingly. There is no permanent impact as a result of not being mobile ready immediately.
Should you worry about Google’s mobile friendly update? We hope that this article has helped to demystify recent changes and help you identify what action you need to take next…