It’s been almost a month since Google announced their efforts to promote mobile-friendly content (be it websites or apps) in their search results. Since then, speculation has been rife on how it will work, which sites it will affect, how to prepare your site/app and ride the update when it arrives, and what will happen to the poor sods who don’t fall in line.

Why is a Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update Needed?

Mobile internet traffic and usage, mobile search, mobile search spend, and mobile ecommerce transactions have all eclipsed their desktop counterparts, if not yet in the US (Google’s backyard), then at least in significantly large parts of the world according to various reports.

In developing countries (with large populations) like India, the number and usage of mobile phones has long overtaken PCs due to a smaller established PC base and cheaper cost of mobile phones. This means that a vast majority of people access the internet using only their mobile devices.

Myntra, India’s largest online fashion retailer, which clocked $1 billion in sales last year, is one of the first ecommerce behemoths that plans to jettison its website in favour of its app, which attracts 80% of its traffic and 60% of its current sales.

Google, with its unwavering stated focus on what the user wants, cannot afford to ignore such decisive and large-scale changes in user or merchant behavior.

Over the past few years, they have amassed critical and significant data on mobile usage and behavior with their Think Insights studies. If anything, they’re best poised to alter their product in accordance with any technological or behavioral shifts at the right time. And search engines are still the go-to places for mobile users to research a product or service they intend to buy.

1Source: Google/Nielsen Mobile Path to Purchase study

Why Bother Announcing It?

While the update itself and the direction Google is taking with it comes as little surprise, this is the first time they’ve actually revealed an algorithm change even before they’ve made it.

Google has traditionally engaged in FUD tactics to make webmasters and marketers conform to their notions of natural search rankings. And God forbid, if you stumbled on a method (that scaled well) to better your rankings, you could kiss your discovery goodbye with subsequent penalties sure to follow. It’s not that Google hasn’t announced just penalties or updates; even when they revamped their whole search algorithm in the form of Hummingbird, it was publicised only a good month later.

mattcutts

So why now?

They might be turning a new leaf, who knows? (Conjecture alert) There have been allegations of businesses and livelihoods being destroyed, or even the very internet being broken by Google’s incessant updates and changes, and so, they might have decided to go easy on the surprises.

In other words, your guess is as good as mine.

Will It Get You Before You Get It?

As a business or brand, there are some steps you can take to insure your site is not pushed down to the bowels of the SERPs because of a few design/code oversights that you’d have anyway made sooner or later:

#1 : Check if your site is mobile-friendly. If it isn’t, kick yourself and go to #2. If it is, proceed cautiously to #2.

#2 : Read Google’s guidelines for mobile friendly websites. Kowtow to the web software and SEO practices they’ve outlined.

#3 : Fix mobile usability errors.

#4 : Resolve page speed issues for mobile. Ditto for your desktop version, while you’re at it.

#5 : Fetch as Googlebot and verify that your pages render correctly.

#6 : If you have a mobile app, get it indexed. Signed-in users who’ve installed your app will have better chances of seeing your in-app content in the results.

#7 : Go to #1 and repeat until perfect.

You’re on now!

Educated Guesses and Fancy Presumptions from Friends, Philosophers & Misguides

As is expected from such an announcement, there is a lot of chatter about the upcoming update. Googlers have been kind enough to throw some light (and some shadows) on it.

googlers

John Mueller was the first to expand on the announcement in a Google Hangout.

At SMX West, Gary Illyes did his best to answer pointed questions about the cut-off date for the update, its URL-wise effects, a separate mobile index, the impact of responsive design on rankings, how Google crawls CSS & JavaScript, and more.

And then at SMX Munich, Zineb Ait Bahajji came up with an open-ended obfuscation that brings back haunting memories of Matt Cutts in his heyday: she declared that the mobile-friendly update would have a bigger effect on the search results than Panda and Penguin.

Needless to say, she followed it up with cryptic nothings when probed further by Barry Schwartz.

 

Nevertheless, the smokescreen had its intended effect and got everyone discussing it (and set me writing).

 

Matt Cutts, we don’t miss you.

It will be interesting to see the negative side of this. Will there be a penalty for not having a mobile-friendly site? What will it look like?

  • Google could push down your page about 10, 20 or 50 spots down from where it’s ranking at the moment, even for desktop searches.
  • Your page might not be served up at all for queries with mobile or even local intent, resulting in a loss of impressions.
  • Your brand or domain might lose authority if Google deems certain mobile-specific signals necessary for either.

In any case, pseudo-specialists in penalty recovery will have a field day. That way, the impact of the mobile-friendly update could be greater than that of Panda or Penguin. 😉

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