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10 Apr 2015

Mobilegeddon - the fifth horseman of the apocalypse?

In the world of SEO few things grab the attention quite like a stuffed Inbox or a Twitter feed filled with news about a major Google search algorithm update. Sounds geeky? Bit markety? Well maybe but it genuinely touches so many parts of digital which other topics can't and don't reach. As this article on Search Engine Watch says, '... for SEO the world of Hummingbirds, Pandas, and Penguins are akin to the Horsemen of the Apocalypse'.

 

Google announcement

So when Google recently announced, "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" ears were pricked, backs were straightened and budgets were checked the world over.

In short it means that from April 21st for users searching via Google on a mobile, the results they see, will (in theory) screen out non-mobile friendly sites. Read the full Google article.

Why?

A huge proportion of Google searches are now carried out via mobile (upward of 60 percent according to some research from ComScore). So it makes sense and feels reasonable that Google wants to service this traffic contextually and ensure the best possible experience for its users.

Given all of the above, it's also easy to see why those who like a good headline have dubbed it 'mobilegeddon'.

Most commentators are right in saying (and they're rather smuggly saying it) that this has been coming with years, since 2009 or even earlier. If you've not listened to their sage advice until now then ... well, the punchline is that you've got no one else to blame but yourself and only 2 weeks to do something about it.

Can that be right though?

How big an issue is it?

Details are (as ever from Google) vague but what seems to be universally accepted is that (a) this update looks to be the biggest mobile-related algorithm change we’ve ever seen; (b) if you don’t have a mobile version of your site in place by April 21, your search visibility is probably going to be seriously hindered; and (c) this is unlikely to be the last moible related update.

Outside the April 21st Google announcement, a few other insights from have emerged - Gary Illyes, webmaster trends analyst at Google, has shared a few details. Most notably:

  • Responsive design does not have a ranking benefit
  • 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 don't have a mobile responsive or mobile version of your site do you panic? No. Do you do something about it? Yes.

Test your site

First, test your site and find out if your pages are judged to be mobile-friendly. Use the Google tool

Can it be trusted? Well it's developed by Google, in preparation for an update to their algorithm. So, yes it can most likely be trusted.

Google Webmaster Tools also has a useful Mobile Usability Report you can run to check your website as Google sees it. If you find any errors or discrepancies, you have roughly one month to get them fixed.

Whatever you do ... don't panic

Above all there is no need to panic. As Adam Dorfman says, 'If you are close to getting a mobile site launched and worried it won’t be ready by April 21st, don’t bust your budget to make a fix. Adopt change at a pace that is right for your organization, and once you have a mobile-friendly site, the benefits of implementing this should happen quickly.'

Even if you don't have a mobile site in the pipeline, don't panic. Take this as a clarion call to get it sorted.

The greater concern isn't that you don't have a mobile responsive or version of your site, rather that the related strategy that results in having a mobile responsive of version of your site probably isn't in place either.

The understanding of your audiences, their digital personas, how your content can and needs to work across different devices for these different audiences, and how you can meet all of these long term within your overall digital strategy is more important in the long run.

If you've not got those at least underway as conversations then April 21st is VERY far away.

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