Google’s mobile algorithm update – the impact

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If you’re involved or work in search marketing, you’ll have no doubt been aware of Preparing for Google’s mobile algorithm update since it was announced in the autumn of 2014 and rolled out on April 21st, 2015. Many predicted major changes as a result of the update, with Google’s Zineb Ait Bahajji saying at SMX Munich that the upcoming mobile-friendly algorithm update would “impact more sites than their Panda or Penguin algorithms“.

So What Has the Impact Been?

It’s fair to say that the impact of the mobile update has been underwhelming for many in the UK. Google had stated that the update would affect more queries than Panda and Penguin updates, and although no official numbers have been disclosed, more volatility has been observed on previous algorithm updates.

Who were the winners and losers?h2>

Surveys of keywords across websites are useful for seeing the overall impact and the Searchmetrics winners and losers report offers a useful review of the impact of these changes across keywords:

Searchmetrics winners and losers

Analysis of the first week listed Next.co.uk as the website with the biggest loss. Analysing it reveals how big an impact the update may have had on SEO performance with Next.co.uk losing visibility on key generic keywords, including:

Keyword performance

Pages that were not mobile-friendly on average dropped five positions, which is enough of a drop to significantly impact CTR and therefore share-of-voice.

Other losers included sites such as non-mobile-friendly Songlyrics:

Songlyrics performance

Although there were some positive results, too, including GQ:

GQ performance

What Does Google Say?

It’s good that Google has given plenty of warning and education on this update. On April 21 they issued this clarification in a blog post that downplayed the importance of the mobile-friendly ranking factor:

“While the mobile-friendly change is important, we still use a variety of signals to rank search results. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal — so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query”.

This information would have been useful before and might have prevented the ‘mobilegeddon’ hype… but it does explain why the impact has been less than expected.

What’s Next for the Mobile Update?

It’s likely that Google will roll out improved iterations of the mobile-friendly algorithm over time. There are two key ways in which Google can improve the mobile algorithm update:

1. Get better at detecting whether there is a mobile experience

Google can make improvements to how it detects whether there is a mobile-friendly webpage or not. Currently it is possible to trick Google into thinking you have a mobile-friendly website and get the positional improvements even if you don’t. If you simply redirect a user to a mobile friendly page and then navigate them back to the desktop page, you will be rewarded as being classified as being mobile friendly

2. Quantify whether or not that is a good user experience

There isn’t much consideration given to how good or bad the user experience is on a mobile device. Over time, we would expect Google to incorporate more user signals into qualifying how good the mobile experience is look more at behaviour metrics and search sequence, so focus must now turn from just having a mobile site, to making it as good as possible.