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Everything You Need To Know About Google’s New Stance On Mobile
In preparation for the release of Google's mobile-friendly algorithm update on April 21, columnist Neil Patel summarizes what we already know and what you should do to adapt.
There’s no mistaking the fact that Google is driving the mobile revolution. Google is the world’s largest mobile platform provider (Android). Google is the world’s largest mobile search provider. Google has the largest mobile app store. In other words, Google gets to make the calls on mobile.
But things are getting even bigger. Google isn’t satisfied with the biggest piece of the pie for devices, search, and apps. They might eventually own the airwaves, too (maybe). The purpose of this article is to tell you what’s going down with Google’s mobile stance, and what you need to do in response.
Google Will Revamp Their Search Algorithm To Favor Mobile-Friendly Sites
According to Google Webmaster Central, Google will be rolling out the most significant mobile algorithm change to date:
Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.
In just a few short days, you’re going to witness a huge algo upset. In fact, a Googler noted that this change will have more of an impact than Penguin or Panda.
What is a mobile-friendly site? Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to find out. Just run your website through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test page.
Unfortunately, the test is not without its flaws. Google admits it with its prominent placement of a feedback form. (The issues have prompted some robust discussion in the Google Product forums.) Nonetheless, the mobile friendly test is generally a useful gauge of a site’s mobile performance.
Another method of checking your site is to search for it on your mobile device. If the SERP entry bears the “mobile friendly” label, then you’re in Google’s good graces.
Finally, you should run your site through Google’s Mobile Usability Report (in Google Webmaster Tools) to discover any relevant recommendations that will improve mobile use.
The Algorithm Change Will Be “Significant”
I’m trying not to read too much into the announcement, but I can’t help but notice that ominous word, “significant.”
This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.
What will be the actual impact of an algo change that is “significant”? It’s anyone’s guess. Out of curiosity, I searched the Webmaster blog archives for all occurrences of the term “significant.” What are some other things that Google called “significant”?
A survey like mine is facile, of course, but I think we need to assess and prepare for something that Google deems “significant.”
Already, we know that this update will be bigger than Panda or Penguin. We also know that Google considers mobile to be so significant that they are working to dominate nearly all of its manifestations. With this search update, we should brace ourselves for a tectonic adjustment in the way that mobile search functions.
My basic predictions are that non-optimized pages will virtually drop from mobile rankings and possibly desktop rankings. I predict that any page lacking mobile optimization will cease to rank for head terms. I predict that SERP results on page 1 for longtail keywords above a certain search frequency threshold will feature mobile-friendly only pages.
The Algorithm Assesses Each Page Individually
A notable feature of the mobile algorithm is that it analyzes mobile compatibility on a page-by-page basis, rather than a website-wide basis. This announcement came from Google’s Gary Illyes during his SMX West presentation and was areported by Search Engine Land.
What does this mean practically? If your site has some mobile-optimized pages, but some non-optimized pages, then Google will look at them separately and promote the one that is optimized. They won’t “penalize” (if that’s the right term) an entire site based on the off chance that a few pages aren’t optimized.
Realistically, though, if a site is responsive and well-designed, then this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. I’m sure there are some sites with a few optimized pages and a few that aren’t, but generally speaking, an entire site is either mobile friendly or not.
The Algorithm Operates In Real-Time
Another of Gary’s remarks had to do with the real-time nature of the mobile algorithm. Here’s how Search Engine Land reported Gary’s announcement.
On the Mobile SEO panel that I [Barry Schwartz] moderated, we asked Gary when do webmasters need to get their sites mobile-friendly for them not to be impacted by the April 21st launch. Gary explained that the algorithm runs in real-time, so technically, you can do it any day, and as soon as Google picks up on the change, the site will start to benefit from the new mobile-friendly algorithm change.
Obviously, Google can only assess a site’s mobile friendliness when it crawls the page and indexes it for search. At this point, your site is scored. If the page is not mobile friendly on April 21, but becomes mobile-friendly on April 25, then we can assume that Google’s next crawl should be able to identify it as such.
What’s Good For Desktop Is Also Good For Mobile…Sort Of
An additional insight from Google’s John Mueller is that Google mixes some of the desktop and mobile ranking signals. Page speed, for example, is blended in its impact on both desktop and mobile search. Additionally, it seems true that Google’s top heavy algorithm also shares the desktop/mobile impact.
We can safely assume that some of the features that are good for desktop are equally good for mobile, assuming the page has a mobile-friendly design. But keep in mind that the algorithm may begin to differentiate the various factors that are currently bundled as one and the same. Because of the vastly different platforms, load time, layout, etc., between desktop and mobile, it would make sense for it to do so.
Apparently, Google is experimenting with different algorithm signals that are device-dependent.
App Indexing Is Now Factored Into Search Results
App indexing is a new feature of the algorithm that will be exclusive to sites with associated Android apps. This feature is already in play, according to Google Webmaster Central:
Starting today, we will begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed. As a result, we may now surface content from indexed apps more prominently in search.
The purpose of this feature is probably to tighten the connection between mobile search and mobile application. Eventually, there will probably be little distinction between the two. Bridging the gap via search is a logical choice. Google recommends the following steps in order to facilitate app indexing:
- Add deep link support and specify how to reach specific content within your app.
- Verify your app’s official website on Google Play Console.
- Provide deep links for each web page that has a corresponding deep link, either on each page of your website or in your sitemaps.
- Check for errors in Webmaster Tools so you can fix them.
Conclusion: What Should You Do About It?
Though it may be onerous to kowtow, you’re going to have to adapt in the new mobile-centric digital marketing universe. Right now, Google leads the way. They’ve given the command — we have to follow.
- As a first course of action, make your website mobile friendly. Responsive is best.
- Second, address any mobile usability issues in Google Webmaster Tools.
- Third, if you have an Android app associated with your site, get it deeplinked and indexed as soon as possible.
- Fourth, monitor your metrics carefully up to and following the rollout of the April 21 algo change.
Finally, let’s keep learning, listening, and testing so that we can adapt to the changing face of search. What do you plan to do to your websites prior to April 21?
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.