Editor’s Note: SEJ founder Loren Baker also contributed to this post.
Today, Google launched its long-awaited mobile-friendly algorithm update worldwide, which is estimated to affect a large % of mobile search queries. As more people use their smartphones to browse the internet, this update was made in an effort to provide users with the most relevant and timely results, whether the information is on mobile-friendly web pages or in a mobile app.
Today’s update is historical in a number of ways — in fact, it was making history well before it even launched. In an unprecedented move, Google issued a formal warning about this algorithm update last month, giving site owners time to make the necessary changes to their sites before the algorithm went live.
Never before has Google given so much advance notice about an algorithm update, but before I get to that, let’s go over what led to today’s update. If you were watching closely, you could see the signs coming as early as October last year.
A Timeline of Google’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update
October 2014 Google really began pushing the importance of mobile usability on site owners back in October, which was when the Mobile Usability component was added to Webmaster Tools. This is a feature that shows mobile usability issues Google has identified on your site. When introducing this feature, Google gave some advice to site owners that would be making headlines again six months later: “We strongly recommend you take a look at these issues in Webmaster Tools, and think about how they might be resolved.”
November 2014 Last November, Google took its first step towards improving the way it delivers mobile-friendly search results to users. At that time, Google introduced the line of text we’re now all very familiar with, the “mobile-friendly” label that appears in snippets of certain sites. In order to determine if your site was truly mobile-friendly in Google’s eyes, the search giant also introduced its own mobile friendly testing tool which assesses your site against a set of criteria.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. When Google announced this tool, a hint was dropped about today’s algorithm update. Google stated: “We are also experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal.” At the time, no one could have predicted quickly it would become a ranking signal.
January 2015 With the Mobile Usability component introduced in October, Google used Webmaster Tools to determine which sites weren’t mobile friendly and began sending warnings to owners of those sites. The warnings read as follows:
“Google systems have tested [X amount of] pages from your site and found that 100% of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors on these [X amount of] pages severely affect how mobile users are able to experience your website. The pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smart phone users.”
Google was not-so-subtly trying to say that non-mobile friendly sites would end up being demoted in mobile search results. This was when things started getting serious.
February 2015 Those who didn’t heed Google’s warning in January were reminded once again in February — this time with a firm deadline as to when to get their sites in order. At the end of February, Google dropped the major announcement that as of April 21st, the search giant will be extending the use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal throughout mobile search results.
Google was careful to warn everyone that this update was not to be taken lightly. The announcement stated: “This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.”
April 2015 For many SEOs the clock has been ticking down to today, April 21st, when the update finally went live. Now that the day is here, let’s recap what we know about this monumental update.
What We Know About Today’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update
Understandably, site owners are full of questions about today’s update. We wish we had all the answers for you, but with any algorithm update we won’t learn all there is to know until it has been live for a while. Here’s everything we know at this point:
It is Bigger than Panda or Penguin
It was revealed at SMX Munich last month that the mobile-friendly update would be bigger than either Panda (affecting 12% of queries) or Penguin (affecting 3% of queries).
It Will Only Affect The 10 Blue Links
Google recently confirmed that only the 10 blue links will be affected by today’s update. Google News, the Google Local pack, Google Image search, and other Google search properties will not be affected.
How to be in Compliance
How do you comply with today’s update? The simple answer to this is: run your site through Google’s mobile-friendly test and fix all the errors.
News From Google
Takaki Makino and Doantam Phan posted on the Google Webmaster Central Blog that today’s update only affects a component of the overall algo on a page by page level:
- Affects only search rankings on mobile devices
- Affects search results in all languages globally
- Applies to individual pages, not entire websites
While the mobile-friendly change is important, we still use a variety of signals to rank search results. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal — so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query. However, just saying that on its own isn’t very useful. That’s why we created the small business owner’s guide to the mobile-friendly update, which features everything you need to know in order to comply with today’s update and continue driving organic mobile traffic.
Google has also come out with a very resourceful FAQ in the Google Product Forums about Mobile Friendliness and today’s update.
With the update now live, there is conversation happening on Twitter about #MobileGeddon ranking changes but it does appear that the rollout is slower than originally anticipated. Also, it looks like Google may have rolled out some other algo changes along with the mobile update; something they typically do from time to time. Dr. Pete from Moz
No major changes this morning – low-moderate flux, “Mobile-friendly” URLs up only a tiny bit to 70.5% (probably last-minute changes). — Dr. Pete Meyers (@dr_pete) April 21, 2015
Russ Jones from Virante
Good Advice from Annie Cushing on Testing Across Multiple Devices
Rae Hoffman is seeing movement for non-mobile results as well
ok, call me crazy, but I’m seeing some significant movement for some sites – and I don’t think it’s the mobile thing… — Rae Hoffman (@sugarrae) April 21, 2015