What Every Business Needs To Know About Google's Mobile-Friendly Update

Welcome to the so-called Mobilegeddon. Last week, Google released a substantial new mobile-focused ranking algorithm that will give an edge to mobile-friendly pages in Google’s mobile search results. Here are the key takeaways:

Layman’s terms: if you want to get your content discovered by mobile users, you’d better make sure your site is friendly to smartphone users.

What the Update Includes

The largest update in over three years, the mobile update includes over 200 factors, or signals, to determine the mobile-friendliness of a single page.

Unlike the Penguin and Panda updates, the latest update applies on a page-by-page basis (not site wide) and is applied in real time. It’s designed to be a black and white algorithm, meaning that, in Google’s eyes, your page is either mobile friendly or it's not. In this example below, Google believes that only 21% of this site's pages are mobile-friendly.


Sites that are compliant will be given a mobile friendly tag in Google’s mobile search results like this:


Why Does Google Care About Mobile

Google understands that more and more search is happening on mobile – and will only continue to do more so. eMarketer estimates that more than 2 billion consumers will own a smartphone in 2016.

In one way, this update is part of a continued path forward by the search giant to improve the user experience of the Internet by serving users relevant content and enjoyable experiences.

However, more fiscally speaking, mobile-first platforms (like Facebook) have cut into Google’s ad business. And according to eMarketer, 2015 will be the year that mobile ad spend surpasses desktop ad spend.

In this way, the update isn’t just about the happiness of users – it’s about Google’s ability to retain its position as a go-to service in the age of mobile.

Is it hype or is it really Mobilgeddon?

Yes, it’s serious.

Tech Crunch estimates that the change could affect over 40% of Fortune 500 websites. Ouch. The tech blog also pointed to a test in 2013 that showed two thirds of the Fortune 100 were not ready for mobile search.

But, how serious is this?

Google has said that mobile branded search queries will NOT be affected by this update. Why not? Because Google understands the intent of the user is to find you ­– and their aim is to give the user what they want.

To consider the impact this will have on your business, ask yourself the following question: how much revenue will I lose if truly organic mobile visits stop coming in from Google?

Once you answer, you’ll have a good starting point for understanding how to prioritize your mobile approach.

So, what exactly is “mobile friendly”?

The immediate answer is to consider your site from the user’s perspective. To a user, a mobile-friendly site means:

  • The URL is relevant to the content on the page
  • Text is readable without clicking or zooming
  • Spaces between links (also called “Tap targets”) are spaced out appropriately
  • The content fits in the window without requiring horizontal scrolling
  • The page doesn’t show unplayable content (such as videos or games)

So if the site is easy to navigate and easy to read on a smart phone, you’re off to a good start.

Here’s how to tell if you’ll survive the Mobilepocolypse

While we don’t know everything included in the mobile algorithm, Google’s Principles of Mobile Site Design give us a more technical checklist that expands upon the short list above.

  • Simple Navigation – stay away from expanding menus in favor of short and sweet menus. Make sure it’s easy to get back to the homepage and keep your call to actions simple and clear.
  • Easy To Use Site Search – mobile users are x’s more likely to use the search feature on a website than desktop users. Make sure yours is easy to find, and even easier to use. It’s also highly recommended to ensure that returned search results are relevant to the search query.
  • Minimal Form Entry Requirements – there’s nothing more annoying than typing in 20 form fields on your smartphone. Make sure your mobile contact, order and submission form fields only ask for the most necessary information. It’s also good practice to ensure that you include a visual calendar for date selection in your forms.
  • Enjoyable Checkout Process – often, customers research on their mobile device and return to purchase on their desktop. Does your site make it easy for users to finish their purchase on another device? Do you allow them to checkout as a guest or require them to go through a frustrating (read annoying) process of creating an account and filling in even more forms?
  • Irrelevant Cross-Links – this one is also true in desktop search. Make sure that any embedded links in your content are relevant to the anchor text and the user’s intent and/or expectation of what they’ll find when they click through.
  • Expandable Images – are your product images too small? Can the user expand them to investigate your products, or your content, more thoroughly?
  • User Experience Cues – there are several small cues that make a site enjoyable for mobile users. For example, does your mobile site keep users in a single browser window when they click a link? Do you tell users which orientation works best when viewing their site? Do you think to tell a user why you’re asking for permission to use their location?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. While several testing tools exist to help you pinpoint the mobile friendliness of your site, the most impactful tool is your own experience. Visit your site and ask yourself where you get frustrated.

How To Tell If Your Site Is Ready

Will you be affected by this new update? Find out by entering your page URLs in Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

If you don’t pass, Google developers will provide some insight into the issues that are keeping your site from passing the grade.

What If My Site Isn’t Mobile Friendly? Am I banished to mobile purgatory?

Here’s the good news.

Since this is a real-time update, Google will determine mobile friendliness every time a page is crawled and indexed and calculate ranking position accordingly. This means you won’t have to wait for the next update to fix your site in Google’s eyes.

The best thing to do is create a strategic plan. Start with your most important pages to increase their mobile-friendliness. We recommend:

  • Your homepage
  • Your core revenue-generating pages
  • Your top selling product pages
  • Your lead-generation pages (such as sign ups)
  • Your content pages

Once a page is mobile ready, you can expedite the process of ranking in Google’s mobile results using Fetch as Google with Submit to Index in Webmaster Tools.

Outgoing Thoughts

Currently, this new update will not affect desktop or tablet search results – at least for now.

But you can bet that Google’s has their eyes on extending this across platforms. It’s best to be proactive now, and stay ahead of what may be coming down the road.