Next week, Google intends to roll out an algorithm update that will potentially make some big waves within the search engine–especially on certain devices. Google has announced that a mobile algorithm update will be forthcoming on April 21, 2015. While it’s not entirely unusual for Google’s team to make announcements with every tweak or adjustment with its algorithm, it’s safe to assume that changes announced in advance will be sizeable shifts in the search landscape, as they seek to give users time to prepare.
Mobile now takes up 30% of all searches made on the Internet, and mobile capability has long-been introduced into Google’s most prominent tools and ranking signals. From notifications in Google Webmaster Tools that are specific to mobile issues, to the mobile-friendly logo that Google now displays next to mobile-optimized sites in SERPs, there is a considerable effort to illustrate the advantages and pitfalls of a mobile site. While an increased focus on mobile has long been a part of optimizing a site for search, Google’s latest comments help shed some light on how this algorithm could potentially affect the way in which sites are indexed and ranked. Below, we break down what desktop devotees need to know about making the most of mobile.
Perhaps the first step for webmasters and marketers alike should be evaluating the mobile friendliness of their campaign. To do so, webmasters can look either to the SERPs, and try to see if Google’s already flagging their site as a well-optimized mobile experience, or use Google’s mobile capability tool.
For those who choose to look at the site’s appearance within the SERPs, the mobile-friendly tag helps take out the guesswork. Introduced in 2014, this feature helps Google to quickly identify sites for the user that constitute a good user experience on a mobile device. For those who have yet to see Google do this, it looks something like what appears below:
Here, the mobile friendly tag that Google displays lets users know that they’re about to visit a device that should respond well and provide a good UX on a mobile device; however, it also sends a note to the webmaster to help provide peace of mind that the site should not be affected as much in the upcoming algorithm update.
Google also offers a tool to help test your site against many of the features its looking to develop for a stricter, more detailed report of a site’s mobile capability; however, these tools are not without issue.
While these tools are useful to see how your site may currently be rated in terms of mobile capability, we unpack some of the most important features of the mobile algorithm update below.
Sites Will be Assessed on a Page per Page Basis
On April 21, Google’s update to their mobile algorithm will focus on rewarding sites with a good mobile user experience, and may adjust or ‘penalize’ certain pages on sites that are not prepared for mobile users. However, Google won’t penalize your whole site just because one page isn’t appropriate for a mobile device.
At SMX West, Google’s Gary Illyes spoke about the forthcoming change for mobile devices, and indicated that mobile compatibility would be “assessed on a page-by-page basis rather than a website-wise basis.” Google will assess each page’s ability to serve mobile-optimized content, and promote the content that is optimized rather than punishing an entire site based on the chance that a few pages may not be appropriately optimized.
While they have been quick to point out there is no exclusive ranking benefit to a responsive design site, those sites that are designed to be responsive or mobile friendly will undoubtedly feel more prepared, as each page will adjust appropriately to deliver content that is optimized for the device on which it is being viewed.
The algorithm will also update in real-time, similar to the way in which adjustments to the Penguin algorithm have let it operate and update with a more frequent, real-time approach. The sooner you make the changes to your site, the quicker they will be reflected within Google’s index.
This seems to go hand-in-hand with Google’s desire to include more apps and deep links to apps within the mobile search interface, further tightening the mobile experience to Google Play, and the App Store. In any case, use the tools available to find out if your site is being crawled appropriately by Google. If it’s not, consider the mechanisms you will need to employ to either switch to a responsive design or a mobile-friendly alternative.
Responsive, Tablets, and Google Indices
In addition to changes in coding, the mobile algorithm update also lends itself to a couple of surprising facts about responsive design on its own, tablets, and Google’s increasing number of indices.
First of all, responsive design, in and of itself, does not have a ranking benefit–meaning that you will not increase in rank for specific search terms simply by virtue of having a responsive domain. However, responsive design remains Google’s preference for a mobile-friendly user experience, be it on mobile, tablet, or desktop. Speaking of tablets–while tablets are often spoken about in tandem with smartphones, tablets will not be affected by this update.
The final, and perhaps most intriguing part of Google’s press initiative on the forthcoming mobile update, was their admission that Google is now working on a mobile-only index. From the inclusion of apps to more stringent qualities on mobile capability, this is an intuitive move that could potentially diversify the way in which users search on mobile and reach their audience.
For more information on how to ensure your site is mobile capable, contact us today.
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