Thanks to an announcement from Google regarding a major change in how they will rank mobile websites in the near future, the last 4 weeks in the SEO industry have been a blast. Some SEO’s are like, “Meh.” Other SEO’s are like, “RUN FOR THE HILLS!” Let’s dive in and see what all the fuss is about. Here is an overview of everything that we know about the April 21st “Mobile Friendly” algorithm update…so far.
One month ago, Google announced a major upcoming change to its search algorithm:
Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.
Ever since that Google announcement was made on Feb-26th, many SEO industry folks have gone into a frenzy about the potential ramifications of what we are calling the “Mobile Friendly” algorithm update. Some SEO’s have even gone as far as to name the Apr-21st event the “Mobile-Pocalypse”. In some circles, it’s practically become a meme.
The fact of the matter is that Google made that initial announcement without discussing the details and criteria that make a website ‘mobile friendly‘.
The General Details
That all changed yesterday when some Googlers discussed the upcoming mobile friendly algo update in a Google+ hangout. Here are the key takeaways:
1. The algorithm will start rolling out on April 21st and will take a few days to a week to completely and globally.
2. You are either mobile-friendly or not, there are no degrees of mobile-friendliness in this algorithm.
3. The fastest way to see if your web pages are mobile-friendly is to see if you have the mobile-friendly label in the live mobile search results now. If not, check the mobile-friendly testing tool, which should match the live Google search results, whereas the mobile usability reports in Google Webmaster Tools can be delayed based on crawl time.
[Note: Also be sure to check out Danny Sullivan’s write-up over at searchengineland.com.]
How to Know if Your Site is “Mobile Friendly” (in the eyes of Google)
While the general takeaways tell us a lot about the algorithm update, there was also a very important section in the Google + hangout video that gave us a much better indication of how Google determines if a website is “mobile friendly”:
Will degrees of mobile friendliness impact rankings? E.g. two sites, same SEO, both mobile friendly but one site has a better mobile experience. Would the site with better UX on mobile rank higher in mobile search?
As we mentioned in this particular change, you either have a mobile friendly page or not. It is based on the criteria we mentioned earlier, which are:
1) small font sizes,
2) your tap targets/links to your buttons are too close together,
3) readable content,
4) and your viewpoint.
So if you have all of those and your site is mobile friendly then you benefit from the ranking change.
But as we mentioned earlier, there are over 200 different factors that determine ranking so we can’t just give you a yes or no answer with this. It depends on all the other attributes of your site, whether it is providing a great user experience or not. That is the same with desktop search, not isolated with mobile search.
[Note: Thanks to Barry Schwartz for the transcription.]
What All of This Means for You
Google’s Mobile Friendly algorithm update is 100% focused on Mobile Usability (UX), but failure to comply with Google’s mobile UX best practices will potentially result in negative drops in organic rankings and performance on the SEO side of things. This update is really a UX issue that can potentially have a massive impact on SEO. It is another instance where the SEO team needs to work with the UX team to ensure that best practices are being followed.
What Should You Do About It?
Now that Google has provided additional details and criteria around mobile friendliness, we recommend performing an assessment of how well your site performs against the mobile friendly algo criteria. Using Google’s Mobile Friendly testing tool and the Mobile Usability section of Webmaster Tools, identify and fix any existing issues on your mobile site. There really is no other option. Make sure your mobile site checks out, and you’ll be one step ahead of all the sites that have not had time to adjust to this news.