On-page SEO

SEO: Last-minute ‘Mobile-friendly’ Planning

After almost seven weeks of hand wringing in the ecommerce world, Google’s “mobile-friendly” algorithm update will go live on Tuesday, April 21.

For the first time, Google will use mobile friendliness as a ranking signal to impact search results for mobile searchers worldwide. Mobile-friendly ecommerce sites can benefit, while those without mobile-friendly sites may be demoted.

This is the fourth article I’ve written on Google’s mobile-friendly update. I provided an overview of the update at “SEO: Google to Make ‘Mobile-friendly’ a Ranking Signal.” I then predicted ecommerce performance changes, if any, at “SEO: How Google’s ‘Mobile-friendly’ Update Affects Performance.” Finally, I answered frequently asked questions regarding the update, at “SEO: Q&A for Google’s ‘Mobile-friendly’ Algorithm.”

It’s the biggest single event to hit search optimization in over a year and, unlike many Google penalties and algorithm updates, Google has outlined in advance “mobile friendly” guidelines and applications. That means that we in the search engine optimization industry can pass the word to ecommerce merchants, hopefully in time for you to prepare — or at least to know what is coming.

For the first time, Google will use mobile friendliness as a ranking signal to impact search results for mobile searchers worldwide.

Now that the update is less than one week away, these are the questions most on merchants’ minds, including what to expect.

‘How does mobile-friendly work?’

Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update will impact the following.

  • Mobile search results delivered on mobile devices. Search results on desktop devices are not affected by the mobile-friendly algorithm update. So if your site fails the mobile-friendly test and is demoted in mobile rankings, your desktop rankings will not be affected.
  • Any page on any site that does not pass Google’s mobile friendly test. The key here is passing Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. It doesn’t matter if your developers or your agency or your marketing director says that your site is mobile friendly. Only Google’s pass-fail test determines if your pages are mobile friendly, and that in turn determines if your pages will receive a rankings boost or demotion.
  • Individual pages on each site, not the entire site as a whole. If a single page, template or section of the site fails the mobile friendly test, the rest of the site is not affected. This is good news if only part of your site is noncompliant. The algorithm judges each page individually every time it’s crawled, and applies the rankings boost or demotion depending on what it finds.
  • Pages benefit from rankings boost as they become mobile friendly. Because the algorithm is applied page-by-page with every crawl, newly mobile-friendly pages will be eligible for the rankings boost the next time Googlebot crawls that page. And because the algorithm is applied page-by-page, individual pages or templates or sections of the site can become mobile friendly on different timelines and begin to benefit without waiting for the entire site to be mobile friendly.

This could be especially important if your home page, say, received 99 percent of your mobile search traffic. Perhaps it would make sense to focus on a mobile solution for the home page, launch it, and then begin to work on the rest of the mobile site. Yes, there would be some temporary usability issues with the divergent mobile experience, but depending on the decrease in mobile search traffic it might be worth the risk.

  • Every site, worldwide. Oftentimes Google rolls an algorithm update out in the U.S. first, then to other English-speaking countries, and then to countries that require further translation. Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update is rolling out worldwide over a period of a week. By April 28, searchers around the world should see changes in the mobile search results, and ecommerce sites around the world may begin to see changes in their mobile organic search traffic from Google.

‘Could mobile-friendly banish my site from rankings?’

No. This is not a penalty. It’s an algorithm update. That’s a significant difference in terms of both impact and resolution.

A penalty is a manual action applied by a member of Google’s spam-fighting team — real humans. Penalties remove pages or sites from rankings until the cause for the penalty is resolved by the site owner. Once resolved, the site owner must then submit a request for reinstatement. It’s a painful and confusing process.

The mobile-friendly algorithm update is just a change to the software that determines how Google ranks web pages. Some elements of Google’s algorithm work in a site’s favor, and some work against it. Mobile-friendly is being added to those ranking factors on April 21, to act alongside other rankings factors like keyword relevance, quality of backlinks, and others.

Because mobile-friendly is an algorithm update and not a penalty, it will act to benefit pages that pass Google’s mobile-friendly test. Yes, this in turn will negatively impact pages that do not pass Google’s mobile-friendly test. But the impact will be a loss in rankings to the degree that your competitors are able to outrank you based on their mobile friendliness. Your pages may rank lower as a result, but they will not be banished from search results.

If neither you nor the sites you’re competing against are mobile friendly, it’s possible that rankings may not change. If many of your competitors are mobile friendly and your pages are not, it’s possible that your site may be demoted in the rankings until your pages are updated to pass the mobile friendly test.

‘What will happen to my ecommerce performance?’

This is the big question, and the answer is likely different for everyone. If your ecommerce site has very little mobile search performance today, or if the vast majority of your mobile organic search performance is driven by braded keywords, you may see very little change.

However, if mobile organic search is a stronger source of traffic and revenue, this algorithm update will likely have a larger impact. To learn more about how to determine the impact, see my aforementioned article “SEO: How Google’s ‘Mobile-friendly’ Update Affects Performance.”

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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