You are standing in a booth. People are lined up, handing you money in exchange for a small book. This lasts, with little let up, for most of the day. At sundown, you tuck your money in a backpack and head home.
This has been your life for the last two years. Business has been good, so there was no reason to suspect anything would be different the next day.
Except there was.
You show up to your little booth, and wait. Occasionally, a customer trickles in, but otherwise you are alone. Around lunchtime, you peer down the lane. A few stalls seem to have a steady stream of customers. But not many.
You look at the calendar. It is April 21, 2015. You scratch your head and wonder if tomorrow is going to be same.
An odd warning about mobile search
The story above is analogous to how Google’s algorithm updates typically unfold. Website and small business owners wake up one day to find the landscape drastically changed.
Panda and Penguin are the usual examples we like to trot out. In those cases, however, those who were caught up in the convulsions deserved their punishments. It was clear they were violating — at least, pushing the limits of — what Google favored.
But Google’s update to their mobile algorithm is different. We actually got an explicit warning that a change to the algorithm was coming.
This was posted on February 26, 2015:
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.
That date is important, but so is the word in bold.
My dictionary defines “significant” as “important; of consequence.” It’s the kind of thing you hear from a dead-serious parent.
In plain English: You better pay attention.
This update should surprise no one
The concern for mobile-friendliness is not a new direction for Google. As far back as 2011, they were declaring, based on the growing number mobile users, the Zero Moment of Truth.
Since then, those mobile numbers have only increased, as I reported in an early 2015 article on adaptive content. And others are validating what we already know to be true.
According to Mitul Gandhi of seoClarity, 30 percent of total traffic comes from mobile, regardless of industry.
For some of us, it’s more than half of all search traffic … and growing by the moment.
Another clear warning from Google about mobile-friendly sites
But that wasn’t all.
In November 2014, Google announced its intentions to help users find more mobile-friendly sites. How? By adding a label to mobile-friendly sites in search engine results pages.
Here’s an example:
The user now has a choice. They can avoid the sites that aren’t labeled as “Mobile-friendly,” driving more traffic to the sites that are. In this case, Google wasn’t affecting rankings with this move. Just clickthroughs.
But with the update to their mobile algorithm, it seems they are going to change the ranking landscape.
Google went on to explain in that announcement, “A page is eligible for the ‘Mobile-friendly’ label if it meets the following criteria as detected by Googlebot.”
Here is the criteria:
- Website software that’s compatible with mobile (so no Flash, for example)
- Large, readable text without zooming
- Content automatically resizes to fit the screen (so you don’t have to scroll horizontally)
- Large links with plenty of space between each so they are easily tapped
If you think about, though, this is standard responsive web design stuff. Things we’ve been discussing around here for years.
And this is probably a good time to point out that this mobile-ranking update is not site-wide. In other words, Google is looking at specific pages on your site.
However, if you are worried about your site not being mobile-friendly, you can solve that problem with a simple upgrade to a web responsive theme. And you’ll solve a number of problems in the process.
But before we jump to what you need to do, let’s talk about consequences. Like what kind of consequences you can expect if you don’t fix the problem …
The truth is, it all depends on how much of your traffic comes from mobile devices (including tablets).
How much mobile traffic does your site get?
Over at Search Engine Journal Tom Demers writes, “Within Google Analytics, you can quickly get a sense of the overall mobile traffic to your site by navigating to Audience > Mobile > Overview and looking at the breakdown of desktop/mobile/tablet.”
That’s a great starting point.
If you want a more sophisticated method, study Bryson Meunier’s article How Much Traffic Will You Lose From The Upcoming Mobile SEO-Pocalypse?.
Or check out this detailed guide on mobile SEO.
During your research of your own site, you might be surprised by what you find. For example, Moz, a huge website, discovered that less than one percent of their website traffic is mobile.
In other words, if they didn’t make their website mobile-friendly, they probably would not notice a difference in traffic after April 21. Regardless, Moz did decide to make their site mobile-friendly.
And, of course, you should, too (for some of the reasons I stated above). Consider it an investment in the future.
Besides, why not give the best possible experience to users? Surely your mobile user base will rise over time. Why not be prepared rather than scurrying to catch up?
How can you test your web pages for mobile-friendliness?
Perhaps you don’t even know if your site is mobile-friendly. The quick and dirty way to find out is simply to look up a page on your smartphone.
Is the “Mobile-friendly” label visible in the search result?
If you see the label, then yes, that page is mobile-friendly. Is the rest of the site?
Google has a great tool to test if a web page is mobile-friendly. The Mobile-Friendly Test.
And the results look like this:
That’s just one page, though. For example, my site, The Copybot, is not complicated, but every post and page is mobile-friendly because of the StudioPress theme Minimum I use.
It’s still not too late
To conclude, on April 21, 2015, Google will update their algorithm. It will favor pages that are mobile-friendly and penalize pages that are not.
We can only speculate on what that penalty will look like, but if history is any indicator, we can expect something similar to the scene I described in the beginning of this post.
The question is: Are you prepared?