On the 26th February 2015, Google rocked the SEO world by announcing that they would be releasing an algorithm update which ensures that mobile friendliness will become a much bigger ranking factor
In an unusual move, the search engine giant decided to give webmasters a two-month warning so that they had time to prepare themselves for the update, by announcing that this algorithm will be rolled out on the 21st April 2015.
For years industry blogs have started their New Year with a post proclaiming that ‘this year’ was the beginning of the mobile age.
This has always proven to be a false dawn with a recent survey by Hibu suggesting that only 6% of small business in the US and UK have a website which is mobile optimised. This is despite the fact that as of December 2014, 34% of internet users now operate on a mobile device and Google’s Gary Illyes claiming that 40% of Google searches are conducted on mobile devices.
However, Google has ensured that 2015 will genuinely herald the beginning of the mobile age with this algorithm update.
What can we expect?
In a recent Google+ hangout, Google representatives suggested that the new algorithm will be very harsh in its assessment of website, with no degrees of mobile friendliness taken into account. In short, you will either be considered to have a site which is mobile friendly, or a site which doesn’t work on mobile devices at all.
With only 6% of small business having a mobile optimised website, this algorithm update therefore has the potential to be the biggest change in the SEO industry in years; and perhaps even bigger than Panda or Penguin.
We also know that the new algorithm is going to be rolled out globally and, unlike previous updates, it will not be rolled out with a phased approach country by country. This means that on the 21st April, rankings are likely to be in a state of flux across the world.
The new algorithm will be rolled out globally and has the potential to be the biggest change in the SEO industry for years… this means that on the 21st April, rankings are likely to be in a state of flux across the world
Another change from the past is that this algorithm is going to be updated in real time. This is good news if you can’t get your site changed to be mobile responsive prior to this date, as your site will quickly be reassessed once changes are made and any negative effects of the algorithm can therefore be quickly reversed.
How do I know if my site is mobile friendly?
Thankfully, there is an easy way to assess whether or not your website stands to be hit by the latest algorithm change. You can assess whether or not your site is considered mobile friendly using the handy Google Mobile-Friendly Test tool.
The tool is quick and easy to use, and just like the mobile algorithm it gives a simple Yes/No answer as to whether or not your site is mobile friendly.
Google has already started to label sites in search results in this manner, with sites which are deemed to be mobile friendly being given a “mobile-friendly” branding in search results:
This is live in the search results as we speak and mobile friendliness is therefore already having an impact on SEO.
Hasn’t mobile always been a ranking factor?
To a degree, yes. The above change will no doubt have had an impact on click through rates for users operating on a mobile device.
However, prior to this change, websites which did not operate well on mobile devices naturally suffered higher bounce rates on average. This is strongly believed to be a ranking factor, with pages which generally result in short average visit durations or a large number of bounces tending to be pushed down the search results.
Page load speeds are another established part of the algorithm historically which is intrinsically linked to mobile, and websites with slow load times have been unlikely to prosper in the SEO results for a significant amount of time already.
To summarise, although the mobile friendliness of your site is already a ranking factor; it is going to take up a far larger percentage of Google’s overall calculations from the 21st April onwards.
What can I do?
There is no one size fits all approach to mobile SEO, and choosing the right path is not an easy one with there being pros and cons to the various different approaches. This includes:
Responsive website design
Creating a template for your website which utilises CSS3 media queries in order to vary how the page will appear to users depending on the device being operated. This ensures that all equity is built to just one URL, but it likely to require a complete site redesign if not already in place.
Parallel mobile site
Creating an additional mobile URL where the content and page layout is designed specifically for mobile users. These are normally hosted on an m. subdomain or /mobile/ folder levels. The advantage of this is that you are able to create an experience which is tailored specifically for mobile users, but it does require more resources to maintain and create potential content duplication issues if not done correctly.
Serving users a different version of the page on the same URL depending upon the device being used. The advantages of this are that you are able to build equity to just one URL while also ensuring that the content is tailored specifically to the device being utilised on the visit. However, again this normally requires significantly more resources than a responsive approach and the technical implementation of this can create issues.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are various other factors which need to be taken into account before deciding on the right approach for your website.