As Google strives to provide users with the fastest, most relevant search result possible, the way in which it ranks each site continues to evolve.
In 2010 it introduced speed as a ranking factor. In 2011 Google Penguin was created to penalise poor quality sites, and in 2012 they started penalising spam sites.
The Hummingbird algorithm, introduced in 2013, allows Google to better understand the intent behind each user’s search.
As more and more people use mobile devices to browse the web, further adjustments are necessary.
So a huge update will take effect on April 21st.
How will your business rank?
Is My Website Mobile-Friendly?
You may have noticed a ‘mobile friendly’ label within Google’s search results when browsing from a mobile device.This allows users to switch to a better browsing experience.
Grab your phone and search for your business. Does this label appear?
You can also use Google’s Mobile Friendly Test: Enter your URL and wait for your results. Note that this is scanning your URL only, so you may want to scan a few pages on your site.
Sign up to Google Webmaster Tools:
Your site will be ‘crawled’ and you will be notified of any mobile usability issues. You can also check for yourself under ‘Search Traffic and Mobile Usability.’
Some of the Issues You May Face
If you’ve browsed your site on a mobile device you will know whether you have a serious issue or not. The most obvious one will be navigation; do you have to pinch and zoom and slide your finger across the screen to read your content?
Other issues might include:
– Viewport not configured
– Small font size
– Touch elements too close (buttons, tabs, etc.)
All of these can drive potential customers elsewhere.
The Solutions: Responsive or Mobile Site
You have two options: build a separate mobile site or create a responsive site.
A separate mobile site is delivered to mobile users and usually includes a basic snapshot of your website; less content and less images. If the user wants more, they can click on a link to your desktop site. From your perspective it means a second site you have to maintain and that there may be some branding inconsistencies from one to the other.
A responsive site is built to adapt to mobile devices. This is Google’s preferred method. Users get the same experience from mobile to desktop, and you only have to update one site. Just make sure that your site does not contain any unnecessary content that may slow down the user experience and give you a poor Google rating.
For a more detailed description of both see ‘Beginners Guide to Responsive Design.
How Much Traffic Could I Lose?
To estimate how much of an impact an update will have on your site, look at your analytics. What percentage of your traffic is from a mobile device? How much of this comes from Google Organic?
Hypothetical Case Study
Let’s say you’re averaging 100 visits a day or 3,000 visits each month. Of those 3,000 visits 40% is coming from a mobile device, which is of course 1,200 visits each month.
Now when you look at the traffic to your site from a mobile device Google Organic represents 60% which means you have 620 of your total 3,000 visits each month susceptible to the update.
This is where it gets even trickier to figure it out. Ignore the branded keywords which cuts that 620 visits even further.
Now understand that we’re simply expecting a penalty, not to be wiped off the face of the SERPs. So you will likely still get traffic just less. For example, it’s often cited that #1 in Google’s rankings gets 33% of the clicks (Not specific to mobile though). This then drops to 17% for #2 and 11% for #3.
So to confuse you even more try this….You currently rank #1 for your primary keyword target and it brings you in 150 visits per month. Going by the benchmark you are getting 150 of the total 450 queries each month. Still following me? If you drop to #3 because of the update then you could argue that you will get 11% being 50 visits. So for that one keyword you’ve lost 100 visits a month. Ouch!
Will My Rankings Improve?
How much your rankings improve depends largely on what your competitors are doing. If they choose not to be mobile friendly, they will be penalised and your site will feature above theirs during a search. If they are mobile friendly, the difference in your search ranking may not be as significant, but then you can’t really afford not to have a site that appeals to as many users as possible, can you?
What Else Can I Do To Optimise My Site Ahead of the Update?
A few factors can impact your user’s mobile experience:
Check out Google Webmaster Tools again and specifically the ‘Crawl Errors’ – Try and minimise the broken links identified on a smartphone.
Go and test your site’s speed using Google’s own testing tool. It will provide you with two scores – One for desktop and one for mobile. Aim to improve both scores of course but if your desktop score is great and your mobile score is poor then make some changes.
Following Google’s guidelines to being user friendly can be confusing and a little frustrating, but the overriding message is clear – provide your users with content they value and an experience that will make their life easier. If you stick with that, you will be well-placed to perform well in search.