Google “Mobilegeddon” Has Officially Arrived

Today marks “Mobilegeddon” – as Google’s new update has been frequently called since the search giant announced its new algorithm back in February – which means that mobile-friendliness is officially a huge factor in search rankings.

According to comScore research from the summer, smartphones and tablets combined accounted for 60 percent of total digital media time in May 2014, up 10 percent from the previous year. The new algorithm will reflect that growing trend, favoring sites with large text, easily clickable links, and optimized sizes that fit the smaller screen of a smartphone. Websites that aren’t mobile-friendly will be demoted in the rankings, which likely means a drop in traffic from a mobile audience. The changes apply to individual pages, not entire websites, notes Google in a blog post confirming today’s move. 

Brandon Prettyman, a website strategist from Utah, expects the smallest and largest companies to be hit the hardest.

“Small businesses lack the assets and knowledge to make the adjustment on their sites. Large businesses usually have extensive websites with custom functionality and updating all those files can be overwhelming,” he says.

Last week, mobile marketing company Somo found that a number of large brands – including American Apparel, Versace, and Nintendo – did not have mobile-friendly sites, though the latter has since changed that, according to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

Despite being the second-largest airline in Europe, Ryanair, the no-frills carrier based out of Ireland, doesn’t show up until about a third of the way through the second page of a search for “budget airlines.” According to the Mobile-Friendly Test, the airline’s mobile viewpoint is not set, in addition to too-small text and too-close links. Additionally, a robots.txt file may block Googlebot from loading some of the page’s resources.

The test said the same about American Apparel, which doesn’t show up until the bottom of the second page on a search for “best apparel brands in America.”

“Marketers may see that their competitors have slipped, allowing them to quickly take advantage of the improved position,” Prettyman says. “Conversely, they may find themselves on the other end of the spectrum and need to recover quickly. Google will probably refine their mobile update in the future, adding additional characteristics to their definition of a mobile-friendly site.”

To fix their rankings fast, companies need to focus on zoom-free readability, screen optimization, and large enough buttons, says Neil Goddard, SEO account director at Tug, a London agency focusing on search marketing.

“Page load times are an important aspect and search algorithm factor in general, but when you throw mobile into the mix and start thinking about users downloading data on the go, it becomes vital to give users a great experience,” he adds.

During her keynote speech at SES Miami last month, Maile Ohye, developer programs tech lead at Google, mentioned that three-quarters of people will abandon a page after five seconds, and 46 percent won’t go back to it.

Ohye said “Mobilegeddon” was about putting the customer first, acknowledging the ongoing proliferation of mobile devices. Google also changed its mobile search results last week, displaying a more reader-friendly description than the URL.

“If businesses aren’t embracing the change, they’re going to lose out to competitors who are,” says Goddard, who thinks the algorithm change is a positive one for the industry. “Businesses can no longer serve bad mobile experiences to users and still hope to benefit from the same amount of search engine traffic.”

Google has published a FAQs post for webmasters. The company says that the updated algorithm impact may not be seen straight away and it could “be a week or so” before it makes its way to all pages in the index.

The search juggernaut recommends using its mobile-friendly URL testing tool to determine whether your business’s sites and pages are “Google-ready.” 

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