Get Going – Get Mobile: 2. Google’s Mobile Algorithm Update

April 16, 2015



by Paul Bondsfield.

My last missive on the topic of Google’s next big algorithm update discussed in broad terms how this might affect you and what steps you need to be considering.

Now there is more detail available around this change, although Google, as usual is keeping its cards close to its chest, so there is more ‘best guess’ and inference than concrete fact.

Here are the edited highlights:

  • On 21st April, as part of the Google mobile algorithm update, it will launch a new mobile crawler, or bot, which will specifically deliver results for searches from mobile devices.
  • It will also introduce a new mobile-only SERP (search engine results page), tailored for mobile devices and increasingly personalised to the user.
  • For those of you with Gmail accounts, Google will be able crawl inbound emails and index those against your user profile, using the resulting data to better identify your potential interests and infer your ‘true’ search requirements.
  • This change will reward responsive websites (those whose structure changes depending on the screen size of the viewer), mobile apps and single-page app sites (sites where multiple sections of content on a longer than usual page, dynamically update rather than the viewer having to refresh the page for new content).
  • SERP results on mobile will become increasingly richer. This will require fewer clicks by the user because the information they are looking for will be presented on the SERP itself – for example, phone numbers, maps or directions, product prices etc.
  • Essentially Google will scrape content from your website and present it on SERPS. There are two schools of thought around this. Firstly, the user gets what they need and if that’s your phone number or a price for something they then purchase from you, then all good. However, if your strategy is to get traffic to your site for up-sell or cross-sell opportunities, then Google has effectively competed with you, using your own content.
  • Site speed will probably impact mobile rankings after the update. A slow loading site on a mobile device will be far less attractive to user and Google alike and will be marked down accordingly.
  • This change will impact mobile SERPS only. It shouldn’t impact desktop results and rankings – YET! I’d encourage you to start making your site friendly for any device though, because things WILL
  • On mobile SERPS the impact could be bigger than the Penguin and Panda updates last year. That is significant as affected websites then saw ranking drops as high as 80% for organic results. You need to understand how important mobile traffic is to your business.
  • Google’s definition of “mobile” is as yet unclear. It hasn’t said definitively if tablets are included in this change yet – but it’s a fair assumption that this will be the case soon as the difference in screen size between large mobiles and small tablets gets closer.
  • Sub-domain mobile sites are likely to be treated as friendly. These are the mobile versions of desktop sites using an m.domain.com URL – for instance m.bbc.co.uk.
  • Google has a mobile friendly test tool where you can check if your site is either friendly or not. Three things to note here though:
  • Firstly it’s a binary result so it will tell you one of two things: your site is mobile friendly or it’s not. If not however, it will give you some basic hints as to what needs fixing.
  • Secondly, it’s not infallible and there is plenty of industry discussion about how Google will truly assess a site’s suitability for mobile consumption.
  • Lastly, this tool only tests one page at a time, NOT the whole site. It may be that your homepage is friendly but product pages, with dynamically loaded content, are not. That will mean your site will still appear in search results as usual which is good, but may ironically deliver a worse user experience as they go from a homepage they can read to a product page they can’t.
  • This is a real-time algorithm. So as soon as you change your site and Google crawls it once again it can start ranking again. Depending on your site, that could be within a week or within the hour: there will be no time-lag, as there was with Penguin and Panda.
  • Important note: Google is trying to make search better for users but it is also out to make money. SERPS are changing so that there are more paid results above the organic results. On mobile, this could push your no.1 positioned organic result below the fold, making it vital that your results are optimised well in order that you garner that all-important click.

So, your next step should be to build your business case for change. Ascertain just how important mobile traffic is to you and your business. Understand just how much traffic you get from mobile, what those people are looking for and how they then interact with your business. If 25% of your web traffic reaches you via a mobile device, how much of that is through generic search terms and how much through branded search? If your brand name is unique, then that traffic may be fine, but consider, if your brand name is also a generic term, how business levels may be affected by a corresponding loss of traffic.

Ultimately, you need to know the best-case and worse-case scenarios for your business, in terms of sales, if you disappear from mobile search results, then invest accordingly.

An interim solution may be to create a mobile-friendly homepage, but beware the user experience implication mentioned above. If, however, much of your mobile traffic is simply looking for a phone number, directions to your business or a simple search, the homepage solution may see you through for a while.

Remember though that the Google machine rumbles on and its algorithm changes frequently. Be ahead of the game if you can – consider your customers’ user experience first and foremost, whatever device they choose to access your site from, and you should be ok.