Are You Mobile-Friendly? Responsive Websites and Search Engine Optimization: 40 Days After Mobilegeddon, the Takeaways From Google’s Latest & Greatest Algorithm Update
It’s been a little more than a month since the Google search algorithm update nicknamed “Mobilegeddon” was rolled out to a fearful world. In many ways, this event was similar to an apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster, except that in this case, instead of everyone looking anxiously up at the sky, all Google watchers were intently focused on their mobile phones. And as we did so, we held our collective breath, waiting to see just how much destruction was rendered to non-mobile-friendly websites by Google’s update.
What’s a Mobilegeddon?
If you’re asking yourself, “What’s a Mobilegeddon?” it was the latest of Google’s most significant search engine algorithm updates. This one promised to dramatically shake up the rankings. In a nutshell, it would reward mobile-friendly websites by pulling them up in the search results on a mobile device – and in so doing, punish those websites that had not become mobile friendly by pushing them down in the rankings.
Why would this matter to anyone who doesn’t spend all their time figuring out the latest changes in SEO (search engine optimization)? Because anyone – or any business – that has a website should always be paying attention (or paying someone to pay attention) to what’s going on that might change the search results. Does your business’ website tend to rank well when relevant keywords are searched on? If so, good – but you want to be sure that you can keep it there. And if your site does not rank well, perhaps you can take advantage of the ever-changing algorithm to make it rank higher.
In the case of Mobilegeddon, Google’s strong desire to reward mobile-friendly websites was the culmination of many months of talking about the ever-growing importance of mobile search compared to search on desktops, laptops and even tablets. Underlining that point, a comScore report last year indicated that 60% of web traffic was now coming from mobile devices (including tablets). However – and here’s the rub – in 2013, only 20% of small businesses reported having a mobile-friendly site.
How a Responsive Website Can Save You
The small percentage of small businesses that had mobile-friendly sites two years ago is not surprising, because unlike today, the options then were few. So-called “responsive” websites were just starting to make an appearance. Most companies with a mobile-friendly website in 2013 had to pay for the design and development of two different websites, one that looked good on a desktop, and the other that worked well on a mobile device. Obviously, the expense of this made it an unrealistic option for most small businesses.
Today, responsive websites offer an excellent and cost-effective way for all businesses to have a website that looks good on any and all platforms (these websites “respond” and display appropriately on whatever platform they’re being viewed). However, in Google’s eyes, too many businesses have been too slow to move into the responsive realm, and Google always wants to provide its users with the best user experience. Therefore, Google decided they needed to provide a strong incentive for businesses to go mobile, using the carrot and the stick approach. Hence, Mobilegeddon.
The update was rolled out – in somewhat slow fashion – starting on April 21. Now, after 40 days, it’s safe to say that the dust has settled, and that this is a good time to pause and take stock. How much of an effect did Mobilegeddon have on Google’s search results? Did non-mobile-friendly websites sink to the bottom of the rankings? And related to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and websites, what should businesses focus on for the rest of 2015?
As an aside, it’s important to note that the scary-sounding term “Mobilegeddon” was not coined by anyone at Google, but by some of those SEO gurus who listen very carefully to each and every one of Google’s announcements about its algorithm updates so they can attempt to parse the sometimes nebulous messages.
Deciphering Google’s Pronouncements
You see, it’s critical to bear in mind that Google, like the mythical oracle at Delphi, is not always crystal clear in its pronouncements. In fact, “cryptic” might be a more apt description. The company is always changing its search algorithm (at least once a day, on average), typically with very minor tweaks. Google doesn’t want to spell out exactly how its 200 ranking factors operate, as that would help those who would game the system for their benefit (and not necessarily for the benefit of the more than one billion people who use Google on a regular basis).
But despite the need for SEO gurus to typically make educated guesses about what’s going on even after they hear Google’s pronouncements about changes to the algorithm, Google clearly indicated that this would be an important update. In fact, back in March, a member of Google’s Webmaster Trends team was quoted in Search Engine Land as saying that the mobile-friendly ranking algorithm would have more of an impact on search results than either the Panda or Penguin updates. (For those who haven’t been closely following Panda and Penguin, that meant that this was going to be a big deal.)
And yet, despite the fact that this was going to be a critical update, the general consensus one month down the road is that this update was not the total disaster for non-mobile sites that many feared. Is that an accurate assessment? And what can we expect going forward?
Mobilegeddon is Beginning, Not Ending
In an interesting and informative article entitled, “Mobilegeddon is Beginning, Not Ending,” Search Engine News described its three big takeaways post-Mobilegeddon:
- Some businesses have lost search traffic because their websites were not mobile friendly. As SEN describes it, “There were clear winners and losers in this update,” concluding with the fact that while the sky never fell, “for some, it clearly rained.”
- Mobile rankings have never been more different from desktop rankings than they are right now. Why is this important? Because it proves that the search rankings for a site will differ depending on what platform someone is doing a search. And they don’t differ by just a little bit; the last figure reported that mobile search results were 69% different than desktop results. That means that, on average, more than two-thirds of the search results will differ, depending on the web searcher’s platform. That’s big.
- It will only get worse for those not optimized for multiple screens. Reasonable SEO minds can – and do – disagree, but SEN’s Bryson Meunier believes that the mobile genie is not going back in the bottle. He quotes Google’s Gary Ilyes, who responded on Twitter that while Google has nothing to announce, “if you think about it, there’s no reason for us to stop improving our MF algos.” (He’s referring to Google’s mobile-friendly algorithms, of course.)
Meunier concludes the post by strongly suggesting that business owners continue to improve their sites for mobile search – and not to use the “underwhelming” mobile update as an excuse for inaction.
I believe that’s good advice. I don’t hear anyone suggesting that desktops are going to make a big resurgence in the next few years. Mobile will continue to become more important, and as it does, Google can be counted on to continue to tweak its algorithm to make mobile-friendliness even more important in the search rankings than it is today. Additionally, it’s a safe bet that any competitors of yours that do not yet have a mobile-friendly site will be getting one soon. So, if you have not already done so, focusing on mobile-friendliness would be a really good priority for your attention in the months ahead.
Finally, if you are uncertain as to whether you actually have a mobile-friendly website, I’d recommend going to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test page and entering your website URL. You’ll find out right away. And if you have any questions about Mobilegeddon, your options regarding your website, or questions about SEO, don’t hesitate to contact us at NCG Strategic Marketing.
You may think you have enough excitement in your life, but the drama that is Mobilegeddon is still in Act I. Now is the time to prepare for Act II.