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How will Google’s imminent mobile update affect your site?.

Meghan Burton, Head of SEO Operations

The author

Meghan Burton

Head of SEO Operations

Google’s desire to make the web more mobile-friendly isn’t a very well-kept secret; nearly a year ago, it launched its first mobile algorithm update, designed to prioritise mobile-friendly sites in the search results. 

Although it was dubbed “Mobilegeddon” by the search industry, the impact seen was fairly light. What actually happened was that the advance warning meant that many brands had time to launch a mobile-friendly or responsive website between the announcement of the launch and the rollout, avoiding significant impact.

Now that we’re firmly in 2016, no one can say that this year is going to be the “year of the mobile” because mobile is now an ongoing consideration that every brand needs to have.

Google is continuing its push with another mobile algorithm refinement, rolling out at the beginning of May. Google has even progressed to issuing warnings right on the SERPs to owners of sites that aren’t mobile-friendly in Search Console.

The simple fact is that more and more users are accessing sites via their mobiles and it hasn’t plateaued yet; in fact, as tablets flatten out, mobiles are just continuing to grow.

While Google is helping the trend, it hasn’t created it; more than half of all Google searches worldwide now take place on mobile.

Will this have an impact on my site?

This latest mobile algorithm refinement shouldn’t have any impact for sites that are already mobile-friendly. To find out if your site is mobile-friendly in Google’s eyes, you can use its mobile-friendly testing tool and you should find a mobile-friendly label when you see your own site in search results on mobile.

You can also review the Mobile Usability section of Search Console, which will let you know which aspects of mobile-friendliness are holding you back and on which pages; alternatively, you can viewGoogle’s guidelines on mobile-friendliness.

There is no indication that this update is going to finally uncouple mobile rankings from desktop rankings and review mobile sites on their own merits; for sites that do have a mobile-friendly label, it seems that they’ll still see a broadly similar visibility across devices.

It also seems that this will still be a page-by-page algorithm; if some of your pages are mobile-friendly and others aren’t, you’ll see some impact across those that aren’t.

For sites that don’t have a mobile-friendly label, however, take note. This will result in an even bigger gap between your desktop and mobile performance unless your content is so impressive that it outranks everyone in your space. And even if it does, a responsive site can only help when those users do find you.

There are still many frustrating experiences for mobile users online; don’t let your site be one of them.

You could be alienating at least 20% and possibly over 60% of your visitors, based on the traffic our clients see coming in from mobile.

What can I do to avoid any drop in traffic?

If you don’t already have a mobile-friendly site, the time to develop one is now. We always advise opting for a responsive site if at all possible; this means that you have the same content across mobile, tablet, and desktop.

It’s easier to maintain, easier to update, and is more likely to see the same good performance across all device types.

If you don’t have the capacity to migrate fully, review what’s stopping your site getting that label. If you can fix it, do, and make sure you’re as prepared as possible by the beginning of May.

While the month is fixed for the start of the rollout, this is just that – the start of the rollout. It won’t be too late for you to build a mobile-friendly site, but if you don’t have one or can’t build one now, you are highly likely to see a drop in traffic.

If your site is already mobile-friendly, you have nothing to worry about from this update. Focus on other metrics – your content, promotion strategy, user experience, technical set-up, and ultimately product or service - to make sure you’re performing as well as possible in all search results.

If you'd like further advice on how to prepare for May's update, please get in touch.