What to Make of the Google Algorithm Focus on Mobile Search

Has the long-term warning to place a focus on mobile sites finally reached its apex?

In a February 26th announcement on the Webmaster Central Blog, Google noted two changes in its algorithm directed towards the expansion occurring in mobile:

“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…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.”

To that first question, the answer is clearly a resounding “Yes.”

This should not come as a surprise. We all have smartphones. We make dinner reservations with our phone. We review the restaurant’s menu on our tablet. We get directions to the restaurant with our mobile device. Very soon we may transmit medical data or check the latest scores with our smartwatch. As we adapt to new technologies, Google follows the trends.

The volume of queries by a mobile device will likely surpass those done via PC in the next couple of years. And consider the fact that there were shipments of more than 299,000 PC’s in the world in 2013. That number decreased to just under an estimated 278,000 in 2014, a 7% decrease. As for mobile devices (including tablets and mobile phones), the projected number of shipments in 2013 was 1,983,805 versus 2,156,875 in 2014, an 8.7% increase. Those mobile numbers only continue to grow in 2015.

Given those numbers, you almost have to ask yourself, “Why did Google wait this long?”

How Does Your Site Stack Up?

If you haven’t heeded Google’s recommendations regarding mobile-friendly sites, you will begin to see changes in how your site ranks. Sites that are mobile-friendly will see better rankings and conversely, sites that aren’t mobile-friendly will see penalized declines in their rankings. The intent behind this change is to reward and encourage a better user web experience regardless of the device.

So, is your site mobile-friendly and responsive? Google has provided a mobile-friendly test and a usability report to assist you in making your site compliant. The mobile-friendly test can be used to test your site’s pages to ensure that they are mobile-friendly and the usability report in Webmaster Tools is used to test the entire site. The usability report will detail all major issues within the site that prevent it from getting the coveted mobile-friendly designation.

The Impact on SEO

The biggest question here is what these changes will mean to SEO and design. Simply put, Google will reward sites that are mobile-friendly. It will punish sites that are not. The obvious answer is that you need to make sure your site is mobile-friendly.

Google does provide some guidelines to follow when it comes to developing mobile-friendly sites. Those guidelines include:

  • Selecting your mobile configuration
  • Responsive web design and content configurations
    • Ensuring the content is not ever wider than the screen
    • Links should be straightforward and easy to see for users
    • Text should be large enough for a user to browse without having to zoom
  • Avoiding common mistakes, such as:
    • Blocked java scripts, CSS, image files
    • Unplayable content
    • Faulty redirects
    • Slow mobile pages
    • Using software not common to mobile devices
  • Configuring the site for other devices, tablets

This change is part of the long-term mission by Google to provide a more pointed, specific response to a query regardless of the device. The result and challenge to SEO is that you will see fewer queries with higher quality conversion rates on your site.

Google has eliminated all the noise caused by loading sites with keywords, taken to ignoring loading links on sites, and they crawl through sites looking for valuable content. The result and the challenge to SEO is you will see fewer queries with higher quality conversion rates on your site.

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