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What You Need to Know about Google’s Mobile Friendly Ranking Update

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By Bill Rowland

Google’s Mobile Friendly Algorithm Update is upon us and digital marketers should take notice. Glibly dubbed “Mobilegeddon” by some, this change has raised questions and may leave inattentive marketers in the dust.

Given that the announcement was characteristically vague, what’s an online marketer to do? In this post, I’ll offer some background and Search Engine Optimization recommendations.

What Is Google’s Mobile Friendly Ranking Update?

Google’s Mobile Friendly Update is a revision to the search engine’s algorithm that will provide greater weight to mobile-friendly ranking factors. Announced on February 26, this change is made up of two parts:

  • Greater emphasis of “Mobile Friendliness” in search engine ranking
  • Inclusion of more relevant App content in search results.

Simply put, websites that adhere to mobile friendly principles are more likely to rank highly while other websites may drop in rankings. In addition, content contained within mobile applications may now appear in the Google search engine results for signed in users.

While many details of this update have not been provided, what we do know is this:

  • Affects organic search only
  • Improved indexation of Apps
  • Applied to individual pages, not site wide
  • Implemented on April 21

Frankly there are many other possible effects, but these are all we know about now.

Why the Shift?

2015 is expected to be the year that mobile searches exceed that of desktop and Google is taking steps to improve its mobile experience. Over the last several years the search giant has urged webmasters to focus on mobile-friendliness and this update is the final push.

It should come as no surprise that this is happening now. Searcher behavior has recently seen a dramatic swing toward the use of mobile devices and apps to access data. Furthermore, mobile penetration has slowed in the western world, while tremendous global growth is expected in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

What Do We Do Now?

Although this update seems to represent a seismic shift, digital marketers can survive and even thrive by simply applying some common sense principles. My recommendations include:

Don’t Freak Out

Typically a change in Google’s algorithm of this expected magnitude sets off alarm bells, but there’s simply not enough information about how this update will actually affect results. Furthermore there won’t be for weeks or months to come.

Define the Potential Impact

Before taking any action it’s critical to understand the potential impact to website performance. Remember impact can include improvement, so don’t be a glass-is-half-full thinker. Before spending significant time and money perform a sanity check to determine the level of threat or opportunity to your business.

If your mobile revenue exceeds 10 percent of total site, the Mobile Friendly Update represents a significant threat and deserves your attention. Identifying opportunity is equally simple; if mobile searches for the keywords of your top five competitors return results without the Mobile Friendly designation, there may be enough opportunity to warrant additional investment in time.

Identify & Resolve Issues

Simply put, identify and resolve non-mobile friendly issues. Although this process can get complex, a simple approach is often the best way to start:

Test Important Pages

Use Google’s Mobile Friendly Testing Tool to review a broad sampling of page types to identify potential problems. Remember that the mobile-friendly designation is on a per-page basis so extensive testing may be necessary.

Check Robots.txt

Confirm that mobile-friendly resources are not being blocked in the robots.txt file. These include image, JS and css files. Learn more about Robots.txt here.

Google Webmaster Tools

Every website should have an associated Google Webmaster Tools account, which can be used to diagnose a wide range of problems including those for mobile. Specifically inspect the Mobile Usability Report and the Crawl Errors Report selected for Smartphones.

While these tests are not intended to be comprehensive, they will uncover the vast majority of any website’s mobile-related problems. Furthermore Google’s tools are excellent and offer additional guidance in how to resolve the issues identified.

Develop a Performance Baseline

Performance is relative so the creation of a comparative baseline is needed to adequately determine how much impact the Mobile Friendly Update is having on your site. I recommend creating a simple 12-month trend leading up to the April 21st launch of the Mobile Friendly Update. This should baseline organic revenue and visitors by traffic source (desktop and mobile) to identify potential changes in performance.

An Opportunity

Although it may present some short term challenges, Google’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update should be viewed by current digital marketers as more of an opportunity than a threat. The shift toward mobile is clear, and strategic marketers should take this opportunity to both consolidate and improve their competitive position.

Bill Rowland is an SEO manager at eBay Enterprise, where he works with e-commerce retailers like Levi Strauss & Co., Toys R Us, Mattel, and Wilsons Leather to maximize online visibility, traffic, and revenue. In addition to helping smaller businesses through his consultancy Nexus Interactive Marketing, Bill is the lead organizer of the SEO Grail Philadelphia Meetup and is active in the Philadelphia tech community. He teaches SEO in the UVM Digital Marketing Fundamentals Certificate Program.

**Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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