On February 26, 2015, unease spread throughout the SEO world. For it was on this day that Google announced yet another update to their algorithm.
Here is what Google said:
“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. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”
Encouraging website owners to make their websites mobile friendly must be good; I for one use my smart phone or tablet for the majority of my personal internet use.
However, SEOs were worried and dubbed the roll-out date of April 21 ‘Mobilegeddon’. After all, previous update — Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird — had been nothing short of brutal to many non-compliant websites.
As I write this post, a few months have passed since Mobilegeddon. So, was it as bad as many commentators predicted? To find out, I spoke to SEO specialist Mike Morgan of High Profile Enterprises.Was Mobilegeddon really so bad?Click To Tweet
What is a non-compliant website?
Before I report on what Mike Morgan had to say, for those that don’t know, this is what Google wants to eliminate:
- Small text that is difficult to read
- Links that are too close together
- Pages that are out of kilter with the device they are being viewed on.
Is your website mobile friendly?
Apart from checking out your website on different mobile devices, there is an easy way to test whether your website is mobile friendly — use Google’s mobile-friendly test. If your site doesn’t comply, this blog by Chuck Price offers several solutions.
So, what happened?
According to Mike there has been less impact on non-mobile-friendly sites than expected.
“I have seen some sites drop a bit of traffic, but they are pretty unfriendly sites.”
Mike reckons there was a lot of misinformation released before the update saying sites would be dumped from Google mobile. However, this hasn’t turned out to be the case.
“It did affect placement, so a non-mobile-friendly site that was in first position may have been pushed to position three. So this shuffling of results was the ‘significant’ change Google talked about.”
Mike noticed branded searches don’t appear to have been affected much at all. This, he says, is understandable because many large organisations, like government or not-for-profit, lack agility; budgets need to be applied for well in advance.
“If someone types Inland Revenue Department, for example, Google doesn’t want to put up a Wikipedia page or some other site when people want the IRD.”
Mike believes organisations with non-mobile-friendly sites will be working towards mobile friendliness and predicts that over the next 12 months there’ll be fewer sites that don’t fit the criteria.
I asked Mike whether he thinks this is just the beginning; will Google be more punitive to non-mobile-friendly websites in the future. He doesn’t think so, as he feels Google has achieved what they set out to do.
“This update saw half of the world contact developers — finally — out of fear that they were going to be penalised. So, Google’s agenda to give more high-quality results through mobile has been sped up. What, in effect, this update has done is push forward what people have been talking about for a couple of years now. That is to make your website responsive or have a mobile website, so you can offer a better user experience for the growing number of mobile users.”
Mike thinks Google has been relatively careful because they knew there would be an impact on some pretty authoritative websites. So, the update was less severe than what people were expecting — even less than what they told people at the outset.
“They really don’t want to give a poor result for search purely based on whether someone has a mobile site or not.”
Mobile-friendliness is just part of the puzzle
Mike says mobile-friendliness appears to be just one of the elements that determine how a website will rank, not the overriding factor. For example, a mobile- friendly website with poor content is unlikely to out rank a good-quality but non-mobile-friendly website.
I suggest to Mike that, ultimately, it will be users who decide how a website ranks; if it is difficult to use, they will stop visiting. He agrees.
So, it appears Google trod carefully with this update. Sure, there have been negative effects for some websites, but they haven’t been anywhere near as catastrophic as some predicted. It’s as if Google’s intent was really to scare us into compliance, knowing full well that being too punitive would defeat their purpose. I think their strategy worked. What do you think?