SEO: ‘Mobilegeddon’ Is Here, Now What?

Google’s “mobile-friendly” algorithm update, dubbed “Mobilegeddon” by the search engine community, began rolling out Tuesday, April 21. Here’s what that means and what to do about it.

What Is ‘Mobilegeddon’?

The popular news media in the U.S. amplified what search engine optimizers have been talking about for months: Mobilegeddon is coming. But there is a lot of confusion about how Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update impacts ecommerce performance.

With the mobile-friendly algorithm update, Google is actively working to guide searchers on mobile devices to more sites with mobile-friendly experiences.

That sounds fair enough. For marketers worldwide, that translates to rankings changes. For ecommerce marketers, changes in the algorithm mean changes in visits, orders, and revenue. With this algorithm update, however, the changes could be positive or negative based on a site’s mobile friendliness.

Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update boosts pages in mobile search rankings worldwide when those pages meet Google’s criteria for a positive mobile experience. I worded that sentence very carefully because the impact of this algorithm update is very specific.

  • Mobile search. The update only applies to mobile search results displayed to mobile searchers on mobile devices. Desktop search results are not impacted by a page’s mobile friendliness.
  • Boosts. The algorithm update introduces another ranking signal to the approximate 200 signals that Google already uses to determine rankings. Mobile friendliness is not an SEO trump card over competitors, nor is it a death knell to web pages without mobile experiences.
  • Pages. Mobile friendliness is determined page by page, not for an entire site as a whole. That means that some of the pages on your site could pass Google’s test for mobile friendliness and receive the ranking boost, and others could fail and not receive the boost. The failing pages will not drag down the entire site’s mobile performance.
  • Worldwide. Unlike many algorithm updates that start in the U.S. and roll out to other countries, this update is applied to every web page around the world.
  • Positive mobile experience. Google has specific criteria for determining whether a page is mobile friendly. To pass the test, your site can be either a specific mobile site or a responsive site. But it’s important to note that even sites that are meant to be mobile friendly may not pass Google’s test. The only way to know is to test your top-performing mobile pages and other representative pages with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. Pages that fail the mobile-friendly test and are later “fixed” will be eligible to receive the mobile ranking boost instantly the next time Google crawls them.
  • Google. As a reminder, this algorithm update only applies to Google. You may receive upwards of 80 percent of your organic search traffic from Google, but remember that the other 20 percent — from Bing, Yahoo, others — remains unaffected.

The bottom line for ecommerce performance in the Mobilegeddon era is that Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update is a mobile rankings adjustment; some pages will rise a few places and other pages will fall a few places. This is not a manual action, penalty, or ban. No site will disappear from Google’s rankings based on this algorithm update.

How large the mobile rankings adjustment will be remains to be seen as the algorithm continues to roll out over a week. What we know for certain is that the impact will vary by search query as well as the other ranking signals that apply to each individual page in the ranking set for each individual keyword searched.

How to Analyze the Impact

Given that the effect of Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update is so diffuse, with different levels of impact by page and by keyword, measuring the impact overall can be tricky.

If your performance metrics are based on keyword rankings, you’re in for a rough ride. Each keyword now needs to be tracked twice: once for desktop and once for mobile. Since some analytics packages break out smartphone and tablet, certain sites will actually have to track and trend three sets of rankings.

To make matters worse, a large piece (if not the majority) of your site’s traffic comes from the long-tail of keywords — those keywords that drive small numbers of traffic each but add up to a large number in aggregate. Tracking all of those rankings across three device types is just not possible, no matter which rankings software you’re using.

But your ecommerce site doesn’t make money when it ranks. It makes money when it sells. That makes analyzing the impact of Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update simple: What is the change to organic search traffic and revenue driven by Google on mobile devices beginning April 21, 2015?

That one metric is all that matters. How individual rankings change is interesting, yes. And rankings can certainly be beneficial in demonstrating to management the need to take action. But this update is not about the rankings for a handful of trophy keywords. It’s about the application of a technical algorithmic update to every page on your site.

There are ways to measure the impact in your web analytics tools.

  • Start with an “organic search engines” report, narrow it to “Google” only, and apply a “mobile devices” filter.
  • Start with a “mobile devices” report, narrow it to “organic search engines” and apply a “Google” filter.
  • Sign in the Google Webmaster Tools and look at the Top Queries and Top Pages reports with the “Mobile” filter selected, as shown below.
Google Webmaster Tools' Search Queries report.

Google Webmaster Tools’ Search Queries report with the mobile filter applied.

How to Make Your Site Mobile Friendly

For most ecommerce sites, the impact will either be across the entire site or across every page on a certain set of templates. Your ecommerce platform uses templates to transform the copy and images you enter into the content management system or database into web pages. Every product detail page uses the same template, every category page uses the same template, and so on. So if one page using a particular template fails Google’s mobile-friendly test, every page in that template likely will.

Don’t wait for the rankings to change this week. Go to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and test representative pages in each template. The test for each page takes about 60 seconds to complete and returns a clear pass-fail result.

If the page fails, Google’s test result will list some reasons why the page failed and some suggestions for resolving the issues. If your site is already responsive or you have a dedicated mobile site, the reason for failure could be as simple as asking your developer to unblock certain files so that Google can crawl them.

Even if you think you have a mobile-friendly site, take the test today.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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