Google Algorithm Change Will Prioritize Mobile-Friendly Webpages

We’ve been saying it for years, mobile, mobile, mobile, and in about 5 consecutive years declared “the year of mobile.” It’s taken Google’s announcement that search engine results pages will prioritize mobile-friendly results for the message to finally hit home for most marketers.

If you’ve yet to upgrade to mobile, or you were stuck considering and weighing the benefits of supporting mobile, there really is no better time to make the move (but how many times have we said that).

Here’s everything you need to know about Google’s algorithm upgrade, what you should do to make your webpages mobile-friendly (if they aren’t already) and a realistic calculation of how this algo change will affect your traffic.

What’s Happening

Google changes its algorithms multiple times a day, to keep its secret sauce secret and to keep marketers on their toes (among other more valid reasons). These changes are usually announced the same day they are launched, and marketers have to scramble to support them or adapt. This time around, when Google annouced that mobile-friendliness would become a determining factor in page rank, the search engine giant gave enough advance notice for marketers and businesses to scramble to make their webpages mobile-friendly before the algorithm changes launch. How kind of them.

Starting April 21, mobile-friendliness will become a ranking signal, and it will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide.

Chuck Price for Search Engine Watch shared some details on the change, and what he calls “Mobilegeddon”: 

  • Responsive design does not have a ranking benefit over creating a separate mobile site
  • Googlebot must be allowed to crawl CSS & JavaScript to pass the “mobile-friendly” test
  • Mobile friendliness is determined at the page level – not sitewide
  • Tablets will not be affected by this update
  • Google is currently working on a dedicated mobile index

So if you are completely unprepared for this algorithm change, here is what to do.

What To Do

The first thing Google suggests is to use their Mobile Usability Report in Google’s Webmaster Tools. If your webpage fails the test, you have 2 options to fix it.

1 – Make your site responsive

2 – Set up a separate mobile site, using the subdomain, (If you choose to go down the mobile-only design route, don’t forget to use canonical tags pointing to the desktop URL for duplicate mobile pages.)

Google recommends going responsive, because that has worked for them and the search engine feels responsiveness would work for almost everyone. But Google stressed at a Q&A with Gary Illyes that there is no actual ranking benefit to choosing responsive over creating an exclusive mobile experience.

There are pros and cons to both options. To help you decide what to do for your webpages, Chuck Price included an indepth pros and cons list for each solution. But before you rush off, you should consider the actual effect of this change, with the calculations below. 

The Impact

A post on Search Engine Land outlined how much traffic you will lose from the upcoming mobile SEO-pocalypse, as they called it. Justin Briggs, CEO at Briggsby marketing consulting firm, calculated that because his webpages are not mobile friendly, the change would cost him to potentially lose less than 1% of traffic.

Knowing how to calculate the effect of the mobile-friendly update could help you de-stress, potentially. If the change to your traffic is as low as Briggs reports, you can afford to take your time and set up a mobile-friendly version of your webpages at a reasonable pace rather than racing to finish before April 21st. If you stand to lose a lot of traffic on the other hand, get going and support mobile already (it’s not like people have been saying it for years or anything).

Jillian Zacchia

Jillian Zacchia

Jill is a professional writer, editor and social media procrastinator. With a degree in Literature and Communications from McGill, she started her journalism career writing about lifestyle and entertainment for teen magazines, and after dabbling with wedding and travel writing she began the transition towards content creation for start ups, marketing and tech companies.

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