Get ready for Google’s next big algorithm update on 21 April

For anyone who hasn’t yet heard, Google’s got a new algorithm update coming. And this time it’s taking on mobile.

On 26 February Google made a very specific announcement to give web owners the opportunity to get their websites in shape for mobile searches by 21 April this year.

They stated:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

Source: Google Webmasters Blog

What exactly does this mean?

Google are staying true to their core belief of delivering a “quality web experience”

Looking back at Google’s past updates (Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird) it’s easy to see a pattern emerging. Each of these has been to get rid of spammy useless websites in search results in a bid to deliver high quality results.

If your website doesn’t cut the mustard in terms of things like fast page load times, useful unique content, enriched user experiences, natural patterns of sharing and back links to your content from other high quality sites, you’re very likely to have seen a fall in ranking.

This new update is again based around quality. Google are saying that if your website is difficult to use on a mobile device, then it’s going to get shunted down mobile search results.

Guilty offenders will include websites that:

  • Use software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
  • Uses tiny text that can only be read by pinching and zooming in on mobile screens
  • Make users have to scroll horizontally or zoom in to see and use content
  • Places links to close together making it had to tap on and select the one you want

All these notoriously frustrating web usability issues need to be a thing of the past in order for your website to retain a presence in mobile searches.

What does this mean for you?

To retain and grow your mobile visitor numbers you need to have a “mobile friendly” website.

On average a website is likely to have somewhere between 30-40% of traffic originating from mobile searches.

A number you are very likely to want to retain, and more importantly grow. In order to do this your website now needs to be built in such a way that it delivers a mobile experience that is acceptable to Google.

To satisfy this “mobile friendly” criteria you have two options.

1. Create a dedicated Mobile Site

A mobile site is a relatively simple site to build and a good option where cost is a factor.

This is a site separate to your main site built solely for mobile users. It usually displays less content than your main site and has a pared down navigation.

These sites are built on a subdomain m.domain.co.uk.

Whilst cost effectiveness and ease of build are an advantage for mobile sites, there are a couple of downsides.  Ongoing costs and time are needed to:

a) Keep content/designs up to date across multiple websites.
b) Maintain them in-line with new screen sizes/browsers as they appear on the market.

2. Turn your current website into a Responsive Site.

A responsive website is one that decides how to display content depending on the device being used to view it. For example, menus shrink, images resize, content appears in a single scrollable column, text becomes larger and readable without zooming, large buttons are used to help users click through to content.

The real advantage with responsive sites is that you only need to build and maintain one website knowing that it will work on all devices (desktop, tablet and mobile).  This allows users to have access to your full range of content, rather than a stripped back version for a mobile site.

It takes a little longer, and costs more, but the initial investment is worthwhile over the longer term.

Whilst it’s believed that responsive sites will not be given a ranking advantage over mobile sites, Google have stated that they are their preferred configuration for mobile because:

  • It’s easier for users to share and link to content with a single URL.
  • Google can accurately index a page without the need to account for duplicate content on a separate mobile site.
  • It takes less time to maintain multiple pages for the same content.
  • Common mistakes affecting mobile sites are reduced:
    • Blocked JavaScript, CSS and image files
    • Unplayable content
    • Faulty redirects
    • Mobile-only 404s
    • App download interstitials
    • Irrelevant cross-links
    • Slow mobile pages
  • There is no redirection for users to have a device optimised view, which reduces load time.
  • Googlebot only needs to crawl one site, rather than having to crawl multiple times to retrieve all versions of the content across various sites. The crawl efficiency can help Google index more of your site’s content and keep it fresh.

Source: Google 

What should you do next?

First things first. Find out if your website meets Google’s “Mobile Friendly” criteria.

Google have produced a handy mobile friendly tool to do just that.

Simply enter your your url, hit submit and find out if your website is deemed “awesome” or not.

Take the Mobile Friendly Test

Googles mobile friendly tool

If it’s not then taking action now is strongly advisable.

We have a wealth of experience in producing both responsive and mobile websites.  To find out how we can help your site achieve mobile friendly status call for a no-obligation chat.  Call 01753 313100