25 Mar Google’s Latest Mobile-Friendly Algorithm, and What It Means for Your Business
On 26th February, Google announced that it will be launching its latest, and one of the biggest algorithm updates to date. The algorithm will have significant impact on search results by targeting websites that are not mobile friendly. Starting April 21, 2015, the mobile ranking factors in Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm will both label your website as being mobile-friendly, as well as use it to determine the rank for your website in its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). The release will affect mobile search in all languages across the globe. The aim of the release, as Google phrased it is “[so that] users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”
This explains why Google has been so generous in informing the world of the release more than a month in advance. It will allow businesses to prepare their websites for mobile. To further ease the move to more mobile-friendlier websites, Google’s mobile usability reports (you have to be signed-in), the mobile friendly testing tool, and Google’s mobile guidelines serve as a starting point for developers and marketers alike.
Previously Google had announced that the new mobile-friendly ranking algorithm was to have a significant impact on mobile search results. However, the comment made by Zineb Ait Bahajji from Google’s Webmaster Trends team, that the impact on search results will be greater than Penguin and Panda updates makes the presence of a mobile responsive website all the more crucial for businesses.
But how will Google implement the new ranking algorithm? Has Google created a new list of ranking factors, separate from desktop and especially for mobile searches? Do marketers have to?
This post will summarize Google’s plans for the new release and how business should take them on.
#A-21st, #D-Day, and What it Means to Be Mobile Friendly?
Google is committed to delivering the most relevant search results to its users, and the prime focus is on ranking and rewarding brands and websites that offer valuable content and a good user experience. Given the smaller screen size of mobile devices, value is automatically translated into content relevancy to search and the ease with which the content can be consumed. The later is dependent on the loading speed of the website, its intuitive design and layout, and how it adapts and displays itself and content to the screen on which it is being viewed. Last November, Google had already announced a “mobile friendly” tag that appeared beside websites that Google bots reported as being mobile friendly.
Google’s webmaster guidelines, even then, were highly specific for what would be considered a mobile friendly website:
- One that avoided reliance on software that were not generally used by mobile devices (e.g. Flash)
- Uses typography (fonts and text) that is legible on first load, and hence does not require zooming on page for readability
- Resizes page’s content so that the user does not have to scroll or pan the screen to read or interact with it
- Takes care of “tapping” by separating links so that they can easily be tapped
All of this holds valid for mobile-friendly website as the 21st April draws nearer. The biggest impact can be felt by businesses in the service industry such as realtors, doctors, law firms, etc. where searches are highly location specific and the decision process (and bounce rates) are driven by the level of engagement on the website.
How Will the Latest Update Affect Searches and Rankings?
Although Google has informed us of the major release date of its mobile ranking algorithm, part of the release was put into effect as of February 26th. The official ranking algorithm is comprised of two parts: an app indexing algorithm (already in effect), and the mobile-friendly usability factors that will be in place on 21st April.
The app indexing algorithm is set to make mobile search easier (and more targeted) for logged-in users and is in effect for mobile apps that are participating in Google’s App Indexing program. Let’s see how each will be put into effect on your websites.
Better Search Results with Mobile Apps Indexing
Content from apps has posed a search conundrum as marketers often found that their content on mobile apps was not being considered during rankings on the SERPs. Google hopes to rectify this with app indexing service, which currently is meant for signed-in users (and hence targeting Android apps). The immediate result will be a resurfacing of content in search results from the indexed apps.
Now, the two questions are: Is Google differentiating its ranking based on how the website displays on mobile and desktop, and two, will Google rank websites page by page?
Will Google Be Differentiating Between Desktop and Mobile Signals?
The biggest concern in the face of “bigger than Penguin and Panda” is locating the ranking factors that need to be worked on specifically for mobile. The good news is that Google has taken an integrative approach, and will not be differentiating between desktop and mobile in terms of the signals. If the website is fast and offers higher level of engagement on desktop, the authority, social, and content signals will be broadcasted while mobile-friendly factors are being computed. The ranking metrics for the website’s speed will still be derived from the working of the desktop website. Hence, even if the website is not exceptionally fast (relative to its desktop version), the SERP ranking will not be affected.
Being mobile friendly is a set of additional ranking factors; however, Google will still be using many desktop signals for ranking your website during mobile searches.
But what if the mobile website is working faster than the desktop version?
Businesses relying on adaptable website design and layouts may have completely different design for their mobile websites, making a strong argument against Google’s choice for using the desktop signals for mobile ranking. Garry Illyes from Google, present at the recent SMX West, addressed the concern by stating that though Google is not planning to break out the signals for desktop and mobile, they are experimenting with them.
Given anecdotal evidence from previous updates, Google is known to levy judgment by penalizing websites for blaspheming against Google’s latest doctrines (codes of conduct), the question is, how will Google go about ranking and rewarding mobile-friendly website? Will business have to submit reports once they have met the mobile-friendly codes?
Fortunately, Google has (probably?) learnt from the negative reactions and criticism that followed the adoption of Penguin and Panda (and probably why they have informed us of the update two months in advance). Consequently, Google will be simply updating the ranks on a page-by-page basis.
This means that the reward for becoming mobile friendly will be in real-time.
How Will the New Mobile Algorithm Reward Sites? In Real-Time
The latest algorithm will function in real-time, i.e. it will target websites on a page-by-page basis, ranking each according to its mobile-friendliness and hence will not aggregate ranks based on the website as a whole.
This means that the mobile-friendly features for the website, technically, can be updated on any day and Google bots will respond to the change, rank them, and proffer the rewards for mobile-friendliness immediately. This also means that business websites that have suffered from slower indexing (primarily because of being rarely updated) have to work on their mobile design sooner.
Furthermore, the page-by-page basis of the indexing means that incase the website has 12 pages, out of which only 4 are mobile-friendly, then only the four will reap the benefits of being ranked higher on the search results. This is good news for marketers that have specialized web pages (or sub-sections) that need to be targeted for mobile first. Then again, to remain future proof in the face of growing mobile user base, it is important to invest in complete website re-design — one that is more mobile, user, and hence business-friendly.
In Conclusion — The Future is Robust, Responsive, and Mobile-Ready Websites
The future is mobile. The digital marketing insights report for 2015 shows an explosive growth in the use of smart devices (smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, etc.) with 80% relying on smartphones to surf the internet. Google’s Mobile Path to Purchase, also worked with 950 customers across 9 industry verticals to reveal that 48% of mobile searches began on search engines, 26% began on branded apps, and 33% began on the brands website itself.
However, a Keynote report stated that 44% had reported delimiting user experience because of non-intuitive navigational layout and 46% of mobile users had reported facing difficulty while interacting with a web page. Given that the number of people that own a smartphone have exceeded those that own a toothbrush (yeah), and that the biggest player on the Search has taken upon itself to release another huge algorithm update, are cues that should put the web development in high gear.
In the end, here’s to how you should go for mobile-responsive website design:
How — The Components of Your Responsive Website
Your website should:
- Employ Fluid Grid System Instead of a Fixed Grid System — Avoid catering only the most popular devices. There is no standard screen size for smart devices, and creating websites to adapt to specific screen sizes is a short-term investment. With a fluid grid system, the website can automatically sense the screen size and realign itself (typography, content, and rich media) with ease.
- Always Start from Content — Keep the marketing strategy foremost. Profile your audience and know the type of content they would want to interact with. By creating a website first, you automatically limit the type of content that can be easily shared through the website.
- Embrace lazy loading — Use scripts to keep the auxiliary content (one that is not essential but adds to the appeal) to load after the primary content. This allows your website to load faster.
- Remain abreast of Search Engine Guidelines —You may have the best ideas on the market, but if they are not in line with the search engine’s guidelines, they’re a wasted investment.
If you have questions about how the new Google algorithm will affect your website, please give us a call. At Brown Box Branding, we have been committed to producing top-quality Mobile Responsive websites from the beginning. In fact, to date, we’ve never produced a website that was not mobile-friendly. We’d be happy to help you understand what risks are relevant for you, and suggest a strategy to help avoid or minimize any negative impact.
All the best!