Are you prepared for the Google Mobile-Friendly Algorithm?

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Each year, Google changes its search algorithm. While most of these changes are minor, Google occasionally rolls out a “major” algorithmic update that affects search results in significant ways. On April 21st Google is changing their algorithm and making it more mobile friendly. Google will launch a new mobile crawler that can do a better job of crawling single-page web apps, Android apps, and even Deep Links in iOS apps. The new algorithm will evaluate mobile search results but not desktop results. This doesn’t mean that it will not crawl non-mobile websites, but it can affect your ranking in Google. With that said, you should probably take some time soon to make sure that your site works—at least in a passable way on mobile devices.

Why the change?

Page Rank and Domain Authority is a problem. Sites are being judged by their seniority in Google and not their content. Just because a website has a high page rank doesn’t mean it should automatically be given a higher rank by a search engine. Google wants to reward great content. They want to make searchers happy. And they certainly don’t want the end users using another search engine.

Based on googles quote: “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our 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.”

Seniority of websites, the new and future websites shouldn’t be punished because they weren’t around during the golden age of SEO and search engines. If a website has been around for longer it used to have the advantage over the new sites being created regardless whether the new sites have better content.

Google has been telling webmasters to prepare for mobile for years, now. Thanks to the announcement of the Mobile Search update, many webmasters now have a compelling reason to take action. If you find yourself scrambling to be mobile-friendly and can’t decide between a dedicated mobile or responsive design, it makes sense to weigh the pros and cons of each before making a decision.

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What do I need to do?

Your site’s content will continue to become more and more important with the new changes. Google will reward smart content, in other words, not the piece of content that is looking to sound smart, but rather the piece of content that has the goal of communion with the reader/searcher. Just keep in mind these few steps:

  1. MOBILE: Google is taking into account that mobile is taking over. Everyone is on their phones or tablets. Your content better be mobile friendly. It better be responsive and look good in every screen size.
    • Test your current website, remember to use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to review the homepage and a number of other pages on the website, including blog posts, category pages, and shopping cart.
    • Update to responsive design or independent mobile site (auto recognizing). It is very likely not worth it to try retrofitting an existing design. For very old websites built on HTML, FrontPage or Dreamweaver, it is time to migrate to a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress. For websites already on a CMS, switching to a responsive theme shouldn’t be too painful or expensive. Google has a Mobile Guide to help with this process.
  2. Faster is better: Google rewards websites that load quickly. Make sure your hosting and your load time is up to Google’s standards.
  3. Google Analytics: Without it you’re flying blind. The Google Analytics tool is your best friend when it comes to keeping an eye on the health of your site. This will be your best friend.analyticator
  4. Average Session Duration (ASD): This is the time that your viewers spend on your site. This is also going to be one of the greatest factors that Google will judge your site in regards of content quality.
  5. The Bounce Rate: These are the people that enter and quickly leave your site. It shows that people saw your site and didn’t find what they are looking for, as in the content they were searching.
    bounce-rate
  6. Up to Date: This refers to how old or new is your content, so keep your content as fresh as possible.
  7. Quality: Searchers don’t want answers to their searches, they want GREAT answers to their searches. The quality of your content will also be taken into account.
  8. Honesty: People want honest content, they want the answers to their searches. The search engine will be getting better at getting the honest content.
  9. Multimedia: People are more digital now than ever. Content that includes different forms of media will be taken into account. Text with video/audio will begin to win over plain text.

If my site is not mobile-friendly, will this impact my desktop rankings as well?

On a panel at SMX Munich (2 weeks after SMX West) Zineb from Google answered ‘no’ but you should probably take some time soon to make sure that your site works—at least in a passable way—on mobile devices, just in case there are eventual desktop repercussions (and because this is a user experience best practice that can lead to other improvements that are still desktop ranking factors, such as decreasing your bounce rate).

What is Google’s goal with all of these mobile-friendly changes?

Being able to easily surface apps in a search result will help them drive more and better app development for Google Play and monetize their other content like TV shows, books, magazines, movies, and music—all of which have been threatened recently by competitors like Hulu, Amazon, and of course iOS App Store and iTunes.  Google has been encouraging publishers to include transcripts with videos and song lyrics with songs. In the long run, those will help Google scrape and show those things in answer boxes, as shown at the right, but eventually they will probably also surface their own version of the content from Google Play, with links just below the answer box, so that you can watch the video or download the song directly to your phone on Google Play. When you think about Google’s intentions on this front, and try to envision the future, it is important to note that Google is actually already offering Google Play for iOS, which currently just provides the Google Music cloud-storage and a music subscription model. We expect this to expand as well, so that Google can expand their level of competitiveness here too.

It truly depends on what your site is focused on and what you need it to do. Make your website user-friendly, helpful, and relevant and you will have the opportunity to rank in Google organic search, regardless of the website type. Statistics gathered by a variety of companies show that mobile sites have much better conversion rates. This goes back to the fact these sites are designed only for mobile platforms. They tend to load faster and are easier to navigate. In short, they offer a better mobile user experience than responsive designs.

We’ve been saying for years now to build for mobile and respond for desktops. Many responsive sites that are  maintained by the business owner and the sites are large because of images, javascript and tons of CSS will pose a problem with the new algorithm, this is why proper mobile design is key this year.