Unprecedented Google Announcement of a Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Change
This is a huge announcement, guys. Circle your calendars — April 21, 2015.
Google made an announcement today regarding their mobile search algorithm. In an unprecedented move, they have announced the exact date that they intend to change their mobile organic SERP algorithm to more heavily weigh “mobile friendliness” as a ranking signal. That date is April 21.
Here’s an excerpt from the Feb. 26 announcement on the Google Webmaster Central Blog, with emphasis in red (mine):
Update from Feb. 27: Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller addressed questions about the mobile friendliness announcement in a live, hour-long “office hours” Hangout On Air this morning. Scroll to the bottom of this post to watch the full video.
In Google’s history, I can NEVER remember them naming a DAY that they WILL be making an algorithm change. Unprecedented. Their language is also telling: “have a significant impact in our search results.”
This is a game-changing announcement. We need to treat it as such.
What Is Changing?
Prior to this, the mobile rankings for a website were usually tied to the ranking strength of the desktop site. If you ranked well on the desktop SERP, you usually ranked well on the mobile SERP as well. Google has always alluded to the fact, however, that the mobile-friendliness of your website could (would?) impact your organic rankings. This is Google definitively following through with that promise.
Starting on April 21, we can assume that mobile-friendly sites will see a dramatic boost in rankings, especially in spaces where their competition has not taken the time to get their “mobile houses” in order and do not enjoy the mobile-friendly distinction. To be clear, this blog article specifically talks about mobile search rankings — NOT desktop rankings.
What We Don’t Know (Yet)
Although the language of this announcement indicates that this is a change to mobile search results, there has been speculation that mobile friendliness will also impact desktop rankings in the future. (Some believe it already does to a small degree.) While this announcement stops short of indicating that this will occur on April 21, if mobile usability doesn’t begin to effect desktop rankings on that date, one day soon, I expect it definitely will.
What Google doesn’t indicate in their announcement is if the mobile-friendly ranking shift will apply on a site-wide or page-by-page basis. This distinction is especially important for websites using dynamic serving or separate mobile sites that contain mobile versions of some (but not all) content. We do know that the “mobile-friendly” label in SERPs is awarded to individual pages on a domain. It is not an all-or-nothing annotation. So the question is this: can we assume (always dangerous with Google) that the mobile search algorithm will judge website pages on their individual merits as well? Or, if the percentage of mobile-friendly pages on a domain is too low, will the entire domain see a demotion after April 21?
What This Means for YOU
We’ve expanded on the advantages of responsive design in the past. Responsively designed websites have a one-to-one relationship between desktop and mobile pages because they are one in the same. As Google’s preferred method of serving content to mobile users, we can assume that responsive sites will be favored by Google in search results going forward, and this is the first real step in that process.
If going responsive before April 21 is not an option for you, it is of vital importance that you consider the mobile solution you have in place and address its deficiencies as soon as possible. Google has gone to great lengths to help webmasters identify mobile site pitfalls and issues by adding things like the Mobile Usability Report to Google Webmaster Tools. That report details mobile usability errors that are specific to your domain. Google has also released the Mobile Friendly Testing Tool, which will analyze a URL and report if the specific page has a mobile-friendly design. Use the tools and resources available to earn the mobile-friendly badge across your website.
Here are more articles to help you along the way:
25 Replies to “Unprecedented Google Announcement of a Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Change”
I am not sure where you are getting your info, however a good topic. I must spend a while studying much more or understanding more.
It’s finely detailed information about Google updates. Waiting for another update from you. Thanks a lot Bruce !
Since I have been following Google for the past 5 years, I’ve experienced their major algorithm updates and was glad to have surpassed those critical algo updates. Based from that 5 years, I never experienced Google announcing some algo update months before the update takes place. Usually, a lot of websites (those who has been in the grey area) would fall victim of these algorithm updates before the announcement. So, I was thinking that this update could have been rolling out but the effects were not that big yet.
Very interesting post, thanks for sharing. Certainly, a lot many sites will be under the lend of Google after 21st. I read somewhere it will be 40% websites affected because more then 40% are non-mobile friendly
Great article, I think google want to remove all non mobile friendly website from search engine who having high ranking into search result. I am so exited for 21 st APR google launches, I update my website old version into mobile friendly version hope this will be prove helpful for me getting high ranking into search engine..
Hi Anthony! You raise a valid point. Here’s my take on it: Let’s assume that anything Google does is motivated by revenue (shocker!). Being that mobile searches continue to grow (seemingly exponentially), so does advertisers’ mobile spend, and hence, Google’s revenue. As for AdSense sites, I’d agree that the increase in mobile traffic, coupled with display ad limitations, might not be so favorable. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see if there is any backlash from users.
Google wants our mobile viewers to view a “mobile friendly” version of the site, but Google will only allow one display ad on mobile pages vs. allowing three display ads and two text ads per page on desktop versions of the site. How is this mobile friendly push good for revenue (for Google or us)?
Yes, Google announced Mobile Friendliness in websites as a ranking signal, this will active in 21st of this April…
Check your websites status in mobile friendly test
I’ve checked my website http://www.hitasoft.com
Very Interesting post, thanks for sharing. Certainly, a lot many sites will be under the lend of Google after 21st. According to Akamai survey, 81% of sites are non-responsive. We have more things mentioned about the algorithm in our infographic. Do provide us your feedback on how you like it? – http://www.webbymonks.com/google/mobile-friendly-algorithm-infographic.html
Since Google states that this algorithm will have a significant impact on sites’ search engine ranking, immediate action must be taken for improperly optimized sites. As stated in the Google Webmaster’s blog, companies can check their website responsiveness using the Mobile Usability Report tool (https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-usability?utm_source=wmc-blog&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=mobile-friendly) simply by entering their URL.
This is not only a national but an international change. Companies all over the world will have to optimize their site accordingly. As you have said earlier in this blog post, Google has consistently “alluded to the fact…that the mobile-friendliness of your website could…impact your organic rankings.” Finally, Google has fulfilled that statement. This also means that less popular sites that are mobile-friendly will rank higher than very accredited sites that are not mobile-friendly in mobile searches. This could pose potential gains, incentive, and multiple possibilities for businesses and mobile sites.
While this only applies to mobile searches, close to 78% of all daily search engine searches are conducted on mobile devices (Sterling, 2014), greatly improving one’s chances of gaining customers and user views. Desktop searches will not change in rankings, however, companies should not be reluctant to optimize their sites. I agree with your prediction that that in a few years Google will require responsive website design for all websites in order to be ranked well in search engines.
I am incredibly curious and anxious to learn more about the unoptimized domain versus unoptimized individual page differences in rankings. It will be interesting to see how large of an impact an unoptimized page would have on the entire site ranking or if the unoptimized pages themselves will solely be discredited. No matter the change, however, the value and content of the pages will contribute to the value of the domain. This means that no matter which ranking will receive the heaviest impact, neither will hold the same ranking if it is not mobile-friendly.
Come April 21, the SEO world will observe and analyze the new Google algorithm and how to most effectively address their potential website changes. If you wish to learn more about more analysis of this change and some main characteristics found on a “Google-approved” website, please visit the JTech Communications blog at: https://www.jtechcommunications.com/news-google-penalizing-mobile-unfriendly-sites.
Thank you for your time and insight, I look forward to hearing back from you and reading more about this subject in the future.
Hi, Chelsea Adams, its amit singh , thanks for your reply, it helps me a lot and i optimize my site to a greater Extend.
once again thanks for two links related to mobile seo
Finally! I love seeing this type of change from Google, rewarding those who not only have proper site architecture but actually write mobile friendly/responsive code. Before the announcement I had been seeing these “fix mobile usability issues” messages in WMT for a few clients and its all falling into place. Also, I would love to see these announcements for all updates from Google, this way if a new Penguin algo is a few months away everyone knows when to get their disavow files in :)
Announcing important updates like this sure does make sense, doesn’t it? Historically, I think Google hasn’t been announcing updates or ranking factors or exact dates of updates/ranking factors because they don’t want people to try to game the system; instead, they keep it all pretty vague because they want webmasters/marketers to simply do what’s right. IE: Create web experiences (and content!) that “delight” the user (“Focus on the user and all else will follow,” they say: http://www.google.com/about/company/philosophy/).
In this case, it seems to make sense that they would give us a deadline, so to speak, to make our websites mobile-friendly. Mobile-friendly websites are good for the user, and there’s no way you can try to game that ranking factor — all you can do is improve your UX and make your website better. When there’s no announcement and no date it gives SEOs a window to debate whether or not it “really” matters; with a formal announcement and a date there’s no discussion. Google is putting their foot down: it matters, do it. It’s almost like this announcement was Google’s strong-arm attempt to universally make the Internet better. (sure, sure, that is always their goal — but with this one they may have found a single improvement that can universally improve UX significantly. IMHO.)
What do you think?
Note: These are all my personal thoughts/speculations as an SEO, and not the thoughts of Bruce Clay or Bruce Clay, Inc. :-)
A couple of clients we recently took on have already dropped due to the mobile-friendly, it started a few weeks after the November 2014 announcement. After implementing responsive markup, two of the three recovered very quickly, we are still waiting for the third to finish making their site responsive.
Wow… a drop back in November, right after the mobile friendly SERP label was introduced. That was quick! Your story really reiterates how truly important mobile-friendly needs to be if websites want to continue to rank highly.
Thank you for commenting! Comments like this are truly invaluable.
Thanks for the comment James. If you don’t mind me asking, what niche were your clients in? Were they ecommerce sites? I wonder if Google’s mobile ranking signals are stronger in some verticals (that have a lot of mobile traffic) than others. Also – what kind of drop are we talking about? A few positions? 5? 10? Just curious to know how significant the impact was, it might give us a clue into what we can expect on April 21.
hi , Robert Ramirez, it is bad news for me, because for the past few days iam trying to add new images to my blog , so that it becomes interesting to reader but for mobile users my blog will be heavier to load . is there any ways to improve my blog for mobile sites ?
Images are good! Mobile optimization doesn’t mean you can’t use images, it just means you have to be more thoughtful about how you use your images. Lucky for you, we have an article that directly address mobile-friendly image optimization. Read: The #1 Thing You Can Do to Improve Mobile UX: Image Optimization >> http://www.bruceclay.com/blog/mobile-seo-responsive-design-image-optimization/
Since it sounds like you’re just starting your mobile-friendly optimization process, you may also be interested in reading our All-In-One Mobile SEO & Design Checklist: http://www.bruceclay.com/blog/mobile-seo-checklist/
And — if you have any questions along the way, please comment and ask! We often consider questions in comments when we’re deciding what our next article topic will be.
Hi there, anonymous friend!
First, sorry for the inconvenience! Reading a a blog article that isn’t optimized for mobile is really a struggle — and reading a blog article about mobile optimization that isn’t optimized for mobile is just… silly. Here’s what happened: Our blog IS optimized for mobile (it is built with a responsive design, actually), but, as it turns out, blog posts that include embedded rich media (like videos) need to be amended with a tiny bit of code in order for the rich media (and the article) to respond appropriately.
In this case, the issue was with the YouTube video embedded at the bottom of this post.
Want to learn something new? If you’re using responsive design, make sure the iframe code associated with your YouTube video includes iframe class=”videEmbed” or your embed code will cause your video to keep its desktop proportions, which will result in a poor mobile experience.
If you view this article from your mobile phone now, you’ll see the issue has been resolved.
Everyday is a learning experience… glad we could share this one with you!
Hey Robert Ramirez,
I was forwarded this article and I agree it is quite astonishing that Google would release this unprecedented news.
They have been moving quite quickly and changing the mobile search landscape so the algorithm updates don’t surprise me that much. But it doesn’t bring up some questions maybe you could answer.
1. is there any way this ‘could’ affect desktop rankings? obviously only time will tell but wondering if there were any holes that could potentially be affected.
2. If half of a website is built mobile friendly, and the other not so mobile friendly – would the algorithm only affect half of the pages? Or would it affect the domain strength as a whole?
Again, great update and looking forward to some insights.
Hi Andrew – thanks for the comment. Regarding your questions – always hard to know what is going on in the mind of Google, but I can certainly speculate on your questions:
1) Yes. I would imagine that this ranking shift would bleed into desktop rankings eventually. To what degree remains to be seen, but at some point mobile performance on a site will become synonymous with site performance overall, especially in certain niches where mobile traffic is greater than that of desktop traffic. I don’t think this shift will happen on April 21, but I would not be surprised to see it eventually. It’s the logical progression of this set of maneuvers.
2) Again – total speculation on my part, but I would imagine that this is going to be a page by page judgement. Currently, a domain can have the “mobile-friendly” annotation on certain pages and not have it on others, which leads me to believe that the algorithm is already judging each page on its own merits.
What does this mean for webmasters? If you have “money keywords” or “money pages” that bring in a majority of your traffic, make sure they have properly functioning mobile counterparts! Although a complete responsive solution that affects ALL pages is the #1 “best practice” option, if that is not possible by April 21, I would spend time making sure my core pages had properly optimized mobile versions. It may help mitigate some of the impact of the April 21 update.
We’ll know for sure April 21, but the overarching recommendation is clear – get your mobile houses in order, April is right around the corner.