Google’s Mobile-Friendly Search Update: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly


It was a big week for being globally connected. While environmentalists were preparing to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, smartphone huggers had their own reason to embrace their mobile device. On April 21, Google rolled out what is probably its most momentous change to mobile search rankings.

The algorithm update, affecting mobile searches in all languages worldwide, will reward sites that can be easily navigated and read on mobile devices. These sites will appear at the top of search rankings, while those not optimized for mobile will be more likely to find themselves at the bottom of the list.

Here Comes “Mobilegeddon”

According to Google’s Webmaster Trends analyst Zineb Ait Bahajji, the new mobile-friendly update will have a greater impact on search results than both Google Panda and Google Penguin.

While the new formula won’t affect desktop and laptop searches, it’s clear that companies not optimized for a world on-the-go will take a hit. The news has left many businesses scrambling in what was widely reported as “Mobilegeddon.”

Cautious Observations and a Gamut of Predictions

With such a major global undertaking, the update is expected to take a few weeks to fully roll out. As of this blog’s publication date, SEO observers are still trying to make sense of the algorithm’s full impact.

Many SEO experts, however, have spent months speculating what the mobile-friendly update might mean. Since Google made its announcement in February, SEO expert predictions have ranged from optimistic to alarmist. From good to bad to ugly, here is an overview of that gamut.

The Good

Despite the grim tone of many experts, Meghan Keaney Anderson of Hubspot is focusing on the less scary aspects of the change, even going so far as to rebrand the update “Mobilefestivus.”

Keaney Anderson sees the overhaul as a great opportunity because it will provide an incentive for businesses to modernize their sites. The change will help marketers better serve prospects by reducing friction in the buyer’s journey. By making the site truly accessible across all platforms, this will lead to more conversions and revenue.

Keaney Anderson’s takeaway is that businesses have options. Whether you choose a responsive design (Google’s preferred format), a dynamic serving approach, or a separate mobile web site, you will be able to find the mobile-friendly solution that works best for your tech resources and budget.

That’s definitely good news, and a reason perhaps to be more festive in these changing times of mobile search.

The Bad

Writing in Entrepreneur magazine, content marketing expert Jayson Demers took a more cautionary tone, saying he’d bet money that this mobile update won’t be Google’s last. He warns that those companies that don’t have a mobile version of their website in place will find their search visibility seriously hindered.

Demers emphasizes that at this stage, businesses may not need to go overboard with all the bells and whistles of a dynamic mobile user experience. He also doesn’t think creating a dedicated app is necessarily a priority.

That news is not so bad, but Demers’s takeaway is that ultimately, the onus is on companies to make sure they get the work done that will make Google happy.

The Ugly

With such an apocalyptic name, “Mobilegeddon” has also had its expected prophets of doom. David Gee, editor of Staffing Talk, took an alarmist perspective on the update. Basing his conclusion on research by the GlobalWebIndex, Gee warned that businesses could lose as much as 75% of their website traffic after April 21 if they weren’t mobile-ready.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

Predictions aside, what does the mobile-friendly update mean for you?

In a recent panel discussion at Search Marketing Expo West, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes gave the public some insight into how the new algorithm will function.

One of the best pieces of information shared by Illyes is that the algorithm will be in real-time. This means if you have not optimized your site yet, there is no need to rush the process. Of course, sooner is better than later, but because of the real-time nature of the update, as soon as your site is made mobile-friendly, Google will detect the change and automatically re-process your pages.

A related feature is that Google will evaluate mobile-friendliness on a page-by-page basis. So if the idea of a complete web site overhaul concerns you, you can instead prioritize your most important pages for mobile-readiness. As you plan your optimization strategy, just remember to prioritize landing pages and those pages that will deliver the most ROI.

Numerous resources exist to help you get through this process. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test for specific pages and Google’s Guide to Mobile-friendly Sites are two such links you may find helpful.

Mobilegeddon: a Bang or a Whimper?

As of this blog post publication, the “end of the world” of Mobilegeddon has started not with a bang, but with a whimper. In a telling headline from April 22, Search Engine Land asked: “Did Google Really Start Rolling out the Mobile Friendly Algorithm Yesterday?”

Post author Barry Schwartz reported very few signs of the update from his research on Twitter and webmaster forums. Metrics from large data companies such as Search Metrics were also slow to come in. Schwartz reported that according to some early data by SEO Clarity’s Ryan Heuser, observers were now seeing a “1.7% difference in ranking domains between desktop and mobile versus the previous few days.”

At Moz, author Dr. Peter J. Meyers wrote that according to Mozcast, most people would be “unimpressed with this particular apocalypse.”

“We have a penchant for melodrama, and the blogosphere loves a conspiracy, but after weeks of speculation bordering on hysteria, it’s time to see what the data has to say about Google’s Mobile Update,” he wrote in his post.

“If an update is spread out over weeks, can we accurately measure the flux? The short answer is: not very well. We can measure flux over any time-span, but search results naturally change over time – we have no real guidance to tell us what’s normal over longer periods,” Meyers concluded.

If you are a data geek reading this article, you will be able to track the long rollout on Meyers’ blog post over the next several weeks. Click here for charts and data galore.

Life After April 21

Google’s mobile search update will have a long-lasting effect on the future of online business. As a result of the change, Google says there are already 4.7% more mobile-friendly websites today than there were only two months ago.

A seismic shift in search is happening. Mobilegeddon may not be the catastrophe that many warned, but all that matters is that your own website stay as friendly as can be to survive and thrive in this brave new world of mobile search.

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