Generally, when Google releases an update to its algorithm, it sends a shockwave through the industry with SEO managers across the globe palpitating to forecast their keyword ranking fluctuations. However, this time around Google was kind enough to pre-announce the algorithmic change back in February to give publishers and webmasters a buffer time to make their web sites mobile friendly.
As per Google, the update was rolled out on 21st April and will continue to progress over the next few weeks boosting mobile-friendly pages. So publishers and website owners may not see any dramatic fluctuations in the next few days to the very least.
It is important to note that none of the desktop rankings will be affected as well as the News, Local, In the News, Adwords and videos sections as this update focuses only on Mobile Web Search Results.
How does the update benefit Mobile-friendly websites?
Google through these timely updates enhances its algorithm for two main reasons, first to reward publishers who deserve higher rankings and secondly to punish the ones who according to Google are publishing spammy or irrelevant content. Similarly, this update is no different which focuses on rewarding mobile friendly web page so that end users, the ones typing in the keywords on the search giant, receive “the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps”.
Nonetheless, for Google, relevancy is always paramount and outweighs it’s upgrades, hence, if a website is not mobile friendly, but is most relevant to the search query it is likely to show the website at rank number one. For example, if www.mckesson.com is not rendered for mobile, and somebody searches for www.mckesson from a mobile device, it is likely to show the Mckesson.com on the first position.
What can I do as a website owner?
As a publisher, there are a few things you can do in this situation. The first is to know whether your site is mobile friendly or not. There are a few ways to go about this but the only way to categorically know if your website was indexed by Google as a mobile friendly website or not is to check whether your site has the mobile friendly label in the mobile search results as shown below.
Secondly, you could run the mobile friendly tool test that will analyze your URL and let you know if your web page is mobile friendly or not. All you have to do is enter the URL and hit ‘Analyze’ as shown below.
Subsequently, you could access the mobile usability reports functionality recently added on Google Webmaster tools for tracking your mobile usability issues as shown below.
As more and more websites are turning to mobile, we did a study at RankWatch post the Mobile update to measure the distribution of Mobile Friendly vs. Non-Mobile friendly domains that have been added onto the platform.
Based not the data represented above clearly indicates how the majority of users on RankWatch feel the importance of being mobile friendly where 64.3% of domains added are mobile-friendly compared to 35.7% domains non-mobile friendly.
Importance of going Mobile-Friendly
- SEO: With the hummingbird update that came out last year, it was announced that Google would be giving precedence to sites that have a responsive design which essentially means that sites which are not responsive or mobile friendly will get affected and may loose on the search rankings.
- Better Conversion Rate: With increased accessibility to mobile devices and the Internet, webmasters are able to see a dramatic increase in their conversions compared to web based. At RankWatch, we have seen an increase of 33% of webmasters tracking Google Mobile in the past 6 months.
- Increased time on site: Our research has shown users spend a lot more time on a site accessed from a mobile than on a desktop as long as the content is interesting.
How mobile-friendly am I?
There are two approaches to this question. In the literal sense, you can either be mobile friendly or not be mobile friendly. There is no in-between. However, looking it from a different approach you can be mobile ‘responsive’ to various degrees. Google provides a score out of 100 which measures how mobile responsive your URL’s are. The higher your score, Google is likely to rank you higher on these URLs on mobile devices as they are given precedence over non-mobile, non-responsive websites.
Our team did a small exercise and measured the scores of all more than 30,000 projects/domains added onto RankWatch. The breakup of the scores has been represented in the pie chart below.
The URL responsiveness scores given by Google are based on various parameters that determine your website accessibility on mobile devices. These parameters include:
- Mobile view point
- Text too small to read
- Uses incompatible plug-ins
- Content wider than screen
- Links too close together
As evident from the pie chart, the majority of the domains added on RankWatch lie in the bracket of 95-100 at 40%, followed by websites with a score of 100 at 9.7%. These websites according to Google are leading as far as mobile responsiveness is concerned and would benefit from higher rankings on the search engine for relevant search queries.
Domains that are ranking anywhere between 90-94, 80-89 are responsive but to a limited amount and would thus not be considered fully responsive and would loose rankings due to these factors.
Websites rankings below any of these brackets would not be considered responsive altogether and would give way in terms of rankings to other websites that are responsive and would significantly be affected by the recent update.
In the above graph, you can see how URL responsive scores affect rankings on Google of more than 30,000 domains added.
Compiled by RankWatch after measuring the variance in rankings over the last week (19th April – 28th April 2015) shows that domains in the 80-89 URL score bracket enjoyed the greatest rank increase with 6.31% followed by domains scoring in the 100 and 94-99 brackets at 5.70% and 5.79% respectively.
On the contrary, websites scoring in the 70-79 bracket felt the most significant decrease in their rankings by -4.73% followed by the 60-69 and 0-19 brackets each by -4.17% and 4.15% respectively.
It is important to know that the update will be in real time i.e. pages that have recently been switched over to mobile friendly, Google will pick up on those changes in real time, as long they have been indexed correctly, which could take anywhere between a few hours to 72 hours.
Big websites with hundreds or even thousands of pages could take a bit more time (up to a month) to show it as mobile friendly. Hence, our recommendation would be to ensure your most important pages are indexed as soon as possible to avoid ranking dips.
Based on this, it is also imperative to know that the update will be on a page-by-page basis so if your website has some pages mobile friendly while others are not, you can still benefit from the update. For example, if you have 10 web pages on your web site and 5 of them are mobile-friendly and 5 are not, then only the pages that are mobile-friendly will benefit.
In the below graph, we have distinguished the percentage change in rankings of mobile friendly websites vs. non-mobile friendly websites based on countries over the last week (19th April – 28th April 2015). A fraction of the total projects added, the below graph represents websites that have been the most affected of the lot.
To prevent this from happening to your own website it is imperative to switch over to being mobile friendly. Follow this guide to mobile-friendly sites that will address all your concerns about transforming your website and in the process learn more about the SEO mistakes people make while going mobile friendly and avoid the same on your own site.
Some of the mistakes to learn from are listed as below:
1) Mobile only 404’s: Some websites show a 404 Error if the page a user is trying to access is desktop based and not for mobile. In this situation it is advised to re-direct the user to the mobile-friendly page rather than showing a 404 error.
3) Unplayable Content: In some cases, websites have audio or video content that is not playable or the player is not supported on mobile devices and gives an error message. To avoid this, it is recommended to use HTML5 standard tags to include videos or animation.
4) Faulty Re-directs: You may have mobile URL’s for every desktop version of a page. Hence, if a user is accessing the desktop version on a mobile devise it is important to re-direct them to the Mobile version of the same page. Re-directing them to other pages may be classified as poor user experience.
5) App Download Interstitials: As webmasters, you may also have an app for your business. It is critical to promote the app on the mobile website in a careful manner by not disrupting the user’s intention to complete a task.
6) Irrelevant Cross-links: While on the mobile website it is common to have links that lead to the desktop version or visa-versa. However, it is uncommon to point those links to other unrelated pages on the website.
7) Slow Mobile Pages: It is critical to have your mobile site load fast. Users generally hate slow loading websites to complete a task.
Besides avoiding the above mentioned common mistakes webmasters make while turning their web based websites to mobile friendly, there are also some changes they will need to make to individual pages to be more accessible and influential on users. We have listed down some tips for you to consider when doing the same.
- Keep the headline of the page clear and concise. While shorter headlines don’t necessarily make them more effective, you would need to pick each word carefully and measure how likely users would want to ‘learn more’ about it.
- Writing content specifically for Mobile devices is just half the battle; it is critical to optimize the content as well for the most desirable outcome. Some ways to do this is by maintaining effective Meta descriptions and tags, Integrating appropriate keywords into the content and lastly, by formatting your content to be more SEO friendly.
- Clear call-to-action buttons appropriate for your mobile audience.
- Reduce your textual length. Sometimes, lengthily paragraphs and articles with pages and pages of content could be overwhelming for the user to go over. So keep it short and readable enough for users to be continuously engaged.
- Create rich, clear URLs that would help users navigate and generate engagement with your website as Google also recently announced plans to update how it displays mobile URL’s.
Currently, the response has not been too significant in terms of difference in mobile rankings for all users across it the world but it doesn’t come as a big surprise due to the fact that the update is still rolling out and will definitely impact more websites in the coming days or weeks.
While Mobilegeddon picks up speed, Webmasters may still be able to make necessary changes to their websites by following the above-mentioned tips and guidelines and avoid the inevitable update.