Google’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update a Week Away

Nikole Haiar Nikole Haiar - April 14, 2015

googlealgorithmThe search shift from mostly desktop to mainly mobile is under way. Now, Google is adding fuel to the fire – and putting additional pressure on marketers – with two algorithm updates that mean significant SEO changes for mobile:

1. A mobile-friendly ranking signal

2. Easier access to mobile apps in search results

The search engine made an official announcement in the Webmaster Central blog last week, explaining these updates will give users more high-quality results.

Mobile-friendly or bust

If your website isn’t optimized for all platforms, you should make it priority for the first half of 2015. Google is giving webmasters a grace period that lasts through April 21 to update their pages and make them viewable on smartphones and tablets. If your content isn’t mobile friendly, Google will be less likely to show it to people searching for information on mobile devices.

This could be a problem for the majority of marketers. Earlier this year, a Google poll found 82 percent say they have a mobile-friendly site, but a separate study concluded this isn’t necessarily the case and only about 18 percent of sites actually use responsive design. This means the remaining 80 percent will need to develop solutions to ensure their sites provide experiences their visitors expect or they risk dropping off of page one into search obscurity.

What makes a website mobile-friendly?

  • Text that’s easy to read without zooming (large font)
  • Links that are easy to see and click (not too close together)
  • Content that fits within the screen (doesn’t require a lot of scrolling or zooming to see what’s on the page)
  • Fast load times
  • A template that’s designed for mobile viewing

At SMX West, Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed the upcoming roll out of a global mobile UX algorithm, and he hinted the impact will be huge. The algorithm will run page by page, in real time so any marketers who “miss the deadline” can redeem their sites with fast action.

Still, this new algorithm must serve as a wake-up call for 91 percent of business sites that are not mobile optimized. Illyes and the panelists shared exclusive insights on the upcoming mobile UX algorithm, and best practices for mobile SEO.

Additionally, to get that coveted ”mobile-friendly” label in SERPs, sites cannot have blocked access to CSS and JavaScript. Marketers MUST unblock access to be considered mobile-friendly.

What’s better: m.dot sites or responsiveness?

Bryson Meunier, SEO Director of Vivid Seats argued heavily for responsive, while other members of the panel argued for m.dot sites. The issue, according to m.dot advocates is that building a separate mobile site creates more room for error. In order for a site to earn benefits, it has to be done right.

On other issues:

What constitutes a “mobile” search experience?
Illyes: Any internet-enabled device users can carry, except a laptop computer, is a mobile device.

What’s the difference in assessing mobile (phone) sites and tablet sites?
Illyes: There is no specific different treatment for tablet experiences at this time.

What’s the impact of the mobile UX algo? As significant as Panda, or smaller – like SSL?
Illyes would not respond to this. He joked that this will have a “42 percent impact!” but gave no real insight. However, he subtly hinted at the weight of the algorithm, saying “April 21st will be an important day. Mark it.”

What if a developer team misses the deadline?
This algorithm will run frequently (Illyes suggested it will detect changes in real time). And it will operate page-by-page as opposed to site-wide. Panelists all encouraged marketers who don’t already have mobile (responsive) sites to pick their priority pages according to revenue and start optimizing from there.

What’s the best strategy to rank in mobile search?
Illyes: All we (at Google) want from you is for you to focus on your user.

The moral of the story: No company can afford to take its search visibility for granted. If there’s an SEO arms race, it’s not about acquiring the most links or using the most keywords anymore. It’s over who can provide users will the most valuable information in the best way.

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