Google’s Mobile Friendly Algorithm

It’s official. You have just under a month to make your website mobile-friendly or you will face the full wrath of Google’s latest algorithm change.

Unlike recent Panda and Penguin updates, Google’s Mobile algorithm is relatively simple. Make the change or see a significant drop in your rankings.

Google’s previous algorithm changes

In February 2011, Google Panda was announced, penalising websites that had a lack of long-form, quality content on their site. This caused outrage as small websites with unique and original content were hit harder than established sites with extensive curated, non-unique content.

In April 2012, Google Penguin came along, focusing solely on spammy backlinks. Changing the way that websites linked to each other, this recognised authoritative and relevant links worthy of a higher search ranking.

As any webmaster will tell you, these algorithm changes were not well defined, leaving marketers and SEOs to navigate the fog left looming over the digital landscape. Subsequent updates to the algorithms have been released, including Hummingbird and Pigeon, again with no clear indication of the best ways to prevent a drop in rankings or full blown penalty.

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2015 – The year of Mobile

Over the years we have all seen Google’s algorithm changes effect websites both positively and negatively. This latest algorithm will be no different.

Starting on April 21st, Google will be expanding their 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."

Google have been brutally honest but, as straight as it comes, this mobile algorithm change is nothing less than brutal.  Unlike previous algorithm changes, this has no bias towards big corporations and established sites, so there is no hiding this time round.

In May 2014, the Internet Advertising Bureau looked at the top 50 UK FMCG brands and found that just under half (46%) had a mobile optimised site. If that is the state of the top 50, who knows what lurks beneath.  Google themselves have even completed studies into the consumer’s mobile journey, showing that a staggering 85% of UK users made a purchase using their smartphone.

What happens now?

Over the past few weeks we have noticed that Google has started sending out mass notifications via Webmaster Tools regarding mobile usability errors –a distinct sign that Google isn’t messing around.

Since Google announced the algorithm change they have been crawling and indexing sites, automatically assessing them against the mobile-friendly ranking factors. This means that any page not optimised for mobile will be penalised by the algorithm.

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Google has confirmed that the mobile algorithm will be run on a page-by-page basis. This means that only pages that have been optimised for mobile will see a benefit from the algorithm. Before you freak out, Google isn’t going to penalise your entire site if a small section isn’t optimised; be wary though if none of you pages are suitable for mobile. You can find more information on this at Search Engine Land.

Why has Google sent these warnings now?

It should be no surprise that Google has decided to focus on mobile in 2015. In 2012 they release their first introductory guides to mobile and have continued to reinforce the importance of this for consumers. There have been a number of warning signals over the past year, indicating Google’s preference for mobile.

What to do next

If Google is sending out mass messages, it is not something that should be ignored. Any communication like this tends to be an early warning sign that something big is coming.

Somewhat unprecedented when it comes to algorithm changes; Google has offered explicit advice to website owners relating to the parts of their websites that are not mobile friendly. Whilst they have said they will assess websites on a page by page basis, if your entire website is not mobile friendly you can expect to see a significant drop in rankings across the board. The worst case scenario is that you site will lose all visibility in Google mobile search.

If you have received a warning message in Webmaster Tools, you will need to come up with a strategy to improve mobile usability. First identify which pages Google has assessed and how many have been deemed as having mobile usability errors. If 100% of your website has critical usability errors you will need to get a move on.

Look at the pages that have been identified as problematic in Analytics and assess how much traffic will be lost if you were to lose all organic Mobile search results. This should help you to create a priority list for change.

Once you have established a strategy, you will need to proceed with the developmental changes to make your website mobile friendly. The time scale for this can vary depending on the size of your website.  A simple brochure site can be transferred to a mobile friendly WordPress solution in just under a week; a full ecommerce site could take months.

Netmatter, mobile first

Here at Netmatter we design and build all our websites using the mobile first principle. This ensures that you website offers a great user experience at the smallest screen size as well as on a desktop computer. If you are worried about your site or would like help migrating to a responsive solution, talk to Netmatter today.

Whether it’s impartial advice you are seeking or a quote for a new website, our team is more than happy to help. For more details call 0800 467 1221 or complete the contact from below and we’ll get back to you. 




Catherine Durham

Catherine Durham

Digital Marketing Manager (Dip DigM)

Digital Marketing Manager at Netmatter, Catherine Durham graduated in Press & Editorial Photography. She has since gone on to work in digital marketing and ecommerce, with experience in SEO, copywriting, design and photography.

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