Niall O’Loughlin explores Google’s latest algorithm update, and the initial impact the change is having on SMEs.
Last month Google followed through on its promise to increase the relevance of mobile-friendliness as a ranking system by making yet another algorithm change, with the search engine giant predicting it would ‘have a significant impact in our search results’.
The announcement led to widespread panic as the multitude of UK small businesses that were nowhere near ‘mobile-friendliness’ feared for the fate of their websites – and they have good reason to be concerned. Internationally Google has a 65 per cent market share among search engines. Here in the UK it’s even more dominant, with the figure standing at 88 per cent.
However a month on and the result for SMEs has been mixed, to say the least. Many entrepreneurs are now coming to the conclusion that the hype surrounding ‘Mobilegeddon’ was overblown and the repercussions not as severe as first feared.
The Mobilegeddon Impact
Within the two weeks of the algorithm change, it emerged the number of websites deemed to be non-mobile friendly decreased by 21 per cent on the first three pages (30 results) of Google. Interestingly, the biggest change was on page three with a 25 per cent decrease – at the same time the fall on page one was a less pronounced 17 per cent.
The reason for this is because ranking factors are weaker beyond the first page – a factor resulted in a greater impact.
According to analysis by Moz, after the first week the percentage of sites deemed to be mobile friendly that appeared on the first page of a Google search actually rose by six percent to 78 per cent.
High profile casualties included Bloomberg Business, Vogue and Reddit. However, Moz’s statistics suggest that only a third of websites weren’t mobile friendly prior to Mobilegeddon, so the number of sites vulnerable to a significant impact was already quite limited.
It’s likely the majority of these belong to SMEs who don’t have the time or money to bring their websites up to speed. Obviously, the latest algorithm change forces their hand somewhat.
Another reason why the impact has been less than expected is because mobile friendliness is only a single ranking factor – one among over 200. According to Google, search intent remains the most important factor when it comes to rankings. Hence a non-mobile friendly website with great content is always likely to outrank a mobile friendly site with poor quality content.
The damage Is not yet done
But if you thought that the worst was over, unfortunately you’re in for a nasty surprise.
While Google did state that 21st April was going to be the big day, it’s also repeatedly insisted the full impact of the update could potentially take weeks. The problem is that it’s difficult to know what a ‘normal’ change to search engine results should look like in the long term. One way to measure the impact is to compare the changes between mobile and desktop results; they should look different with every day that passes after Mobilegeddon.
However, the important thing to note is that Google is insistent on continuing its mobile revolution and has announced plans to update search results for mobile users. This is a natural progression since there are now more people accessing Google from mobiles than desktops. As this gap grows, expect to see Google continue to prioritise mobile users, which in turn means further tweaks to the existing algorithm designed to squeeze out non-mobile friendly websites.
How to get up to speed
Viewing a non-mobile friendly website from a smartphone is a frustrating experience; not only is the loading time longer than necessary, users are forced to zoom in and scroll to view the content.
In order to test your site, use an online tool to check your site’s responsiveness. You will need to have a Gmail account to use Google’s Webmaster Tools.
Fortunately, it is possible to make your website mobile friendly without having to break the bank by hiring teams of experts. Most of the work can be done on a DIY basis:
– Improving load speed: decreasing page load speed to less than a second should be a primary concern. This is possible through the use of tools such as Pure Oxygen Labs Mobile Page Audit.
– Make navigation simple: desktops users have a mouse to help navigate around large screens – unfortunately this isn’t the case for mobiles. The key is to make the shopping experience as simple as possible. I’d recommend limiting the overall number of links on your mobile site – and on the home page link only to your major product categories.
– Design for the small screen: When creating a website, force yourself to remain within the limits of the smallest available screen. Start by working out what the customer needs to see on the site, the most important things to click on and the most important conversion elements.
– Clear call to action: This is more important on a mobile site than on a desktop due to the smaller amount of space to work with. The main CTAs are ‘Add to cart’ (should be on every product page) and a ‘Checkout’ tab which should pop up to prompt the user and encourage them to make a purchase without tabbing on another screen.
If you’re too busy to make your website mobile friendly or lack the skills, you can always use crowdsourcing to find an affordable expert in the field. Set your budget, hire the best person for the job and reap the rewards associated with hiving a mobile-friendly website.
Even if you’ve been spared the initial pain from Mobilegeddon, don’t assume you’ll remain unaffected forever. You need to keep abreast of further changes Google has planned for its algorithm – or you’ll feel the financial pain as your business tumbles down search engine rankings.
Niall O’Loughlin is marketing manager at graphic design marketplace 99designs.