Staying Ahead in Google’s New Mobile World
BY Kristen Friend
How does Google judge mobile-friendliness in a post-Mobilegeddon world?
Google began rolling out its most recent major algorithm update, hyperbolically dubbed Mobilegeddon, on April 21. The change only affected mobile searches, and it was feared it would drastically affect the rankings of websites that do not have a mobile-friendly version.
Google quietly makes hundreds of adjustments to its algorithm every year, but the search giant took the rare step of telling the public about this mobile update ahead of time. Prior to the update, estimates were that up to 40 percent of all websites were not up to Google’s mobile-friendly user experience standards. Both Google’s announcement and the high number of poorly performing mobile pages likely added to the general air of mobile-readiness panic.
The results are in
Now that several weeks have passed, it is clear that the effects of Mobilegeddon have not been as dire as predicted, although some movement has been seen in mobile search results. Websites with zero or few mobile-friendly pages have taken a small hit, usually a decline of around one to three places. The position change for non-mobile-friendly URLs tends to be greater after the first page of results, but volatility is generally higher the further one moves away from page one.
So far it appears that no dramatic swings in placement — either positively or negatively — have materialized, and those that have occurred are still a bit unpredictable. In short, the types of adjustments that have been seen since the update are not atypical.
While the storm may not have been as dire as predicted, many websites did update their pages in preparation for the change. Google reported a 4.7 percent increase in the number of mobile-friendly sites during April and May. Google’s announcement of the update alone appears to have forced some change in the way websites behave internet-wide.
Smartphone and desktop results continue to diverge
As Google continues to try to serve results specific to the needs of people using different devices, the disparity between desktop and mobile search results pages will grow. SEOClarity reported that mobile and desktop search listing divergence jumped from 67 percent to 73 percent in the days directly following the update.
The types of content shown in results are also becoming more device-specific. Webpages are now competing with apps in mobile search results, and users have the option to open or install apps directly from within the search results page. As new varieties of content flood the web, mobile results will only continue to become more distinct from desktop results.
The increasing disparity between mobile and desktop search results is making a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy progressively non-viable. Monitoring the ways by which traffic arrives on your pages is not optional. You must be able to predict and optimize for the different types of searches people are making on tablets, smartphones and desktops.
Predicting Google’s proclivities
Mobile-friendliness has become synonymous with responsive design, and having responsively designed or mobile-specific pages is a big factor in how Google determines whether those pages are mobile-friendly. User-friendliness is critical, but it is not the only thing Google is analyzing.
As mobile-ready design becomes more standard, these additional determinants will be what sets a website apart:
1. What is your page load speed?
Google has repeatedly said that it prefers responsive design, a method for creating layouts that adjust fluidly to a user’s screen size, over a dedicated mobile site. Responsively-designed sites serve content to all devices from the same URL, whereas a dedicated mobile site will use a different URL, like mobile.lawexample.com.
Google’s Mobile Friendly Test and Page Speed Insights tools tell a different story than its public statements. When URLs are run through the tool, both types of pages are being rated user-friendly. Pages utilizing responsive design, however, are less likely to pass Google’s speed test. A high user-friendliness score is great, but a low speed score can affect a page’s overall mobile-friendliness grade.
If you test a page with the Page Speed Insights tool, Google provides a grade, a list of items that need to be fixed and a list of rules your site passes.
2. How easy are your pages to read?
When judging readability, Google looks at text size. Does the reader have to zoom in to view content, or is text large enough to read naturally? Google is also looking at links — both buttons and links within page copy. Are links tappable? Are they big enough and far enough apart?
3. Can visitors see all page elements?
Do not incorporate technologies that most browsers no longer show. Adobe Flash is the most infamous example of such.
Device makers, designers and developers have been trying to get Flash out of website design for years. In April 2010,
Apple decided not to display Flash on the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Steve Jobs’ announcement ignited debate and bickering, but in retrospect it was the right call. You do not need Flash to view interactive content or videos.
Now, using Flash might affect your placement in mobile search results. This applies to any use of Flash, including old Flash-based YouTube embed codes. All are seen as negatives by Google’s algorithm.
Over 60 percent of all online activity happens on mobile devices, and Google is unlikely
to stop pushing for a more mobile-friendly internet any time soon. Tracking your site’s mobile performance and keeping apprised of Google’s standards will help you avoid costly ranking changes.
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