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Google Rolling Out Mobile-Friendliness Check

On April 21 Google will begin the roll out of their mobile-friendliness update.

The update will be the making and breaking of webmasters around the world, as Google promised it will be bigger than their Pigeon and Panda algorithm updates. Google have also confirmed the update will take roughly one week to completely roll out and will only impact mobile and tablet SERPs, not desktop.

In which way that it will be bigger hasn’t been confirmed. It can “be bigger” on two levels:

  • It is affecting more websites than the Penguin and Panda update
  • The direct impact of the update will be more severe than each of the anti-spam algorithms

Because the mobile-friendliness update is not an anti-spam/anti-low-quality update, and therefore won’t lead to penalties for websites, we can assume that it will be bigger in sense that more websites will be impacted.

What The Update Looks For

Google Mobile Optimisation

Globally, mobile and desktop searches are practically 50/50, with mobile searches increasing and desktop declining.

Google have acknowledged this trend and, as a result, the mobile-friendliness check is being incorporated into their SERP ranking algorithm.

The update is simple: does this webpage have a mobile-friendly equivalent, and is it user-friendly?

Using Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool, you can check any website’s mobile-friendliness according to Google’s crawlers and, handily, get feedback on how to fix any mobile issues.

Google also provide mobile SEO guidelines to ensure you don’t commit any SEO crimes when developing or maintaining your mobile site.

It points out the most common mistakes webmasters make when they have a mobile equivalent of their desktop site:

  • Blocked JS, CSS and Images
    Test what, if any, files can’t be crawled by using the “Fetch as Google” feature in Webmaster Tools, and ensure the files aren’t blocked in the robots.txt file.
  • Unplayable Content
    Avoid using Flash elements on a mobile website. Instead use HTML5 to embed videos that users can see and play.
  • Faulty Redirects
    Desktop webpages should redirect to their mobile page equivalent. Alternatively, if there is no mobile equivalent, the desktop version of that page should be served, to ensure the user is still getting content that they want.
  • Mobile-Only 404s
    If a mobile user is trying to access a desktop page without a mobile equivalent, don’t show a 404 or soft 404 page. Also ensure that your 404 error pages are mobile-friendly
  • Forced App Downloads
    Place your app-equivalent advert in an HTML banner or image instead of forcing the app download. Giving the user a choice provides them with a positive user experience as they can complete their objective in a way that suits them.
  • Correct Internal Linking
    The easy way for webmasters to build a mobile version of a website is to migrate the entirety of the navigation and content from the desktop version of the site to the mobile. This could lead to irrelevant links going from mobile to desktop pages, creating a confusing path throughout the site. Check the internal links to ensure they direct to their correct location.
  • Page Speed
    As with desktop versions of websites, page speed is very important. An infographic on KISSmetrics outlines user’s desire for fast websites. The scariest fact is for every one-second page delay, conversions can reduce by 7%!

What Websites Receive By Being Mobile-Friendly

Put simply, a guaranteed ranking boost – although that is dependent on the competition around you in the SERPs.

We can assume that, because Google’s assessment of a mobile-friendly webpage works on a yes/no basis, the reward will be the same for all websites.

We’ve used the word “webpage” because the assessment is made on a page-by-page basis. Each individual page will be assessed to determine whether it should receive the boost or not, not just on a domain level.

So, if the first page of a SERP has 10 webpages which are all perfectly functioning mobile websites, we can probably expect the rankings to not change a whole lot, if at all.

However, another element to the update is that it works in real time – as soon as Google crawls your website then the mobile-associated boost will be applied.

So for a short period of time the SERP may change if one website is crawled and receives a ranking boost before another in the SERP is crawled. What we don’t know is how Google will react to reorganising the SERP – will both websites being mobile-friendly cancel each other out, or will this lead to other metrics in the ranking algorithm playing a larger part?

Potentially, if a website is crawled first ahead of their SERP competitors, they will see bigger benefits, so we need to see if there’s a chance we can encourage Google to crawl on the 12th, or as quickly as possible when the update is released.

One method that could be used to help speediness of crawling and getting a ranking boost is to re-upload the sitemap to Webmaster Tools a couple of hours before the update is due to roll out so Google are enticed into crawling the site.

Alternatively, utilising a range of social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and Google+, by posting updates with links to your site and increasing visitation to the site over the first few hours of the update rolling out, could help Google get to your site quicker to assess it.

We’re going to keep a very close eye on how rankings fluctuate over the course of the week of April 21-28!