Thinking

Google’s New Mobile Algorithm – One Week On

Neil Yeomans

As more and more people rely on their phones for online pursuits, it was inevitable that Google would soon release an updated algorithm that would be mobile focused. Head of Search Neil Yeomans takes a look at what this might mean for brands and businesses one week after it was announced.

A version of this article can also be found on Lakestar McCann's blog.

The announced changes caused a wave of people predicting ‘Mobilegeddon’.

One week on, the initial thinking is “maybe not”, because the new mobile algorithm hasn’t yet been as revolutionary as everyone first predicted. That could be due to a number of reasons: There was some warning this time (thanks Google) so we could prepare, but according to Gary Illyes, of Google’s Webmaster team, it may take some time for the algorithm to roll out properly meaning you might not see any major changes for weeks or even months. 

Gary Illyes

In theory, everyone should all be making their websites mobile friendly, but the new Google update means that now it’s even more important if you want to drive traffic to your sites. According to Ofcom over half of people in the UK use their phone to access the internet – which supports the idea that now more than ever, websites need to be mobile friendly.

Google launched the update on April 21st 2015, insisting that the algorithm is not to punish sites, but to make the mobile experience better for users. Rather than remove listings that aren’t mobile friendly, Google will just rank them lower in the search results – so your site won’t disappear completely. That said, it’s still important that your sites are made responsive as soon as possible.

So what do we know already?

Google will be making mobile-friendliness a ranking signal in its search results - the sites which are most mobile friendly will rank the highest and those that aren’t mobile friendly will rank lower. 

Mobile Friendly Example

It’s pretty simple really, but definitely important and will make a difference to both users and companies. The change applies to individual pages on the site, not the whole site itself and it will not be affecting desktop or tablet searches.

It’s not all bad news though: only non-branded searches will be affected by the update – searches for direct brands will not be affected as Google still wants to deliver the best results for queries regarding brands and so it doesn’t make sense to penalise them.   

How do you know if your site is mobile friendly?

Google has created a test which enables you to see whether or not pages of your site are mobile friendly; it’s a user-friendly tool to see where your site needs to improve and it takes under a minute to analyse. A message from Google will then appear with the results.

If the page is mobile friendly (like ours) you’ll get a message like the one below: 

Mobile Friendly Test

And if it’s not mobile friendly you’ll see the below message with a list of reasons why.

Not Mobile Friendly

Why has it been introduced?

As mobile has now overtaken desktop search for many websites, it made sense for Google to reward sites that are mobile friendly. The new change will mean that mobile friendly sites will continue to enjoy the user experience advantages, but it also means that users searching on a mobile device will progressively start to receive search results that are biased towards being "mobile friendly". It will prevent users from experiencing poor functionality when visiting a site on their mobile; Google is essentially giving sites a little push to make their sites more mobile friendly sooner rather than later.

What can you expect in the future?

It might seem like very little has happened in the past week – while that’s true, this new algorithm  will have a huge impact on your site’s ranking results if you fail to make it mobile friendly.

Google’s latest mobile updates are a ‘wake-up call’ for websites that are not mobile optimised.  ‘Mobilegeddon’ as a term is too sensationalist, but it cannot be ignored that 2015 is the year to move fast, optimise sites for mobile, or get left behind.”

So what key learnings can you take from this?

  • Google’s mobile algorithm does not affect desktop or tablet searches. 
  • Mobile friendly sites will rank higher in search engine results, attracting more traffic. 
  • Mobile users will see more relevant results to their search queries and have access to sites with good mobile functionality.

Knowing Google, now this first mobile update has been introduced, we can probably expect to see a mobile ranking signal to be included in the desktop search algorithm in the future. Watch this space – we’ll be keeping a close eye on the update through further posts.