Google Mobile Search Draws Line in the Sand

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Mobile SEO Has Arrived

Historically Google has not been very forthcoming with their algorithm updates. When Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird updates occurred, they weren’t pre-announced by Google. Their MO is usually “we’ve released an update and here’s what it is…” Then, marketers, SEOs and webmasters scramble to learn what they can about it as fast as possible in order to take action.

So, it’s no surprise that marketers are all a-buzz about the announcement by Google on February 26th that provided two pieces of information inconsistent with previous Google index updates. 

First, this next algorithm update is focused exclusively on mobile search results. Secondly, Google communicated a date that this update will go into affect.   

Following is the key excerpt from the blog post announcement from the Google Webmaster Central blog which is the “official news on crawling and indexing sites for the Google index.”

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. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

The bolded text above is my emphasis on the key point in this excerpt.

This Google Webmaster post also conveniently provides a mobile friendly Test tool that makes it easy for you to determine if your website is mobile friendly.

Sample Mobile Friendly Test

If you discover that your website is not mobile friendly, you have two options to consider. Actually three if doing nothing is one option you’ll consider. You can scramble to update the theme of your website in time to meet the April 21st go-live date for this update. Google helps webmasters determine how to do this by offering guidelines for different development platforms. For example, if you have a Drupal website, here are the instructions on how to migrate to a mobile friendly theme on Drupal

If migrating your entire website to a mobile theme is not doable by April 21st, another option is to make mobile-friendly only the most important pages on your website. At a recent Search Marketing Expo (SMX), Barry Schwartz moderated a panel on mobile SEO, which featured Gary Illyes from Google. Illyes indicated that the mobile-friendly ranking signal to launch April 21st will run in real time, and will run on a page-by-page basis. So, in other words if you only make mobile-friendly some of the pages on your website, those pages will be favorably treated by Google’s new index in mobile searches.  

Update Affects Mobile Search Results Only

Any time Google has an algorithm update, the volume of chatter skyrockets through blog posts, tweets and media coverage. This time around, I’ve seen some SEO agencies use a “Y2K-like” scare tactic by twisting the facts on this news.

This Google index update is for mobile search results only. In other words, it won’t affect a desktop web search. 

The question you should answer is what percentage of your website’s traffic is coming from mobile devices. The answer to this question will be unique to your website. The biggest factor that drives mobile discovery of your website is the personas of your website’s audience. 

Our clients are B2B companies, mostly in technology and professional services. It’s very common for us to see mobile traffic as a relatively small percentage of the overall website traffic. In the screenshot below, note that mobile traffic is only 10% and tablet traffic is only 3% of total sessions. Only 10% of new users arrive via mobile. The average session duration however on tablet is the same as desktop. 

Sample B2B Mobile Website stats

As you study the quantity of the traffic you receive from mobile, also consider the make up of that audience. It’s common for busy executives to pull up a website on their smart phone while traveling. In this scenario, the impact of the experience can be very significant, even if it’s not a big percentage of overall sessions. So, don’t take your mobile traffic stats at face value. Consider heavily the make up of your website visitors. These are stats you should study carefully to observe behavior, especially if you transition from a non mobile-friendly website to a mobile-friendly website.     

According to IDG 86% of business executives conduct product research on a tablet, and 72% conduct product research on a smartphone.

Business Product Research on Mobile: Source IDG Mobile Survey 2014 Image Source: IDG Global Mobile Survey 2014

Key Take Away

The “year of mobile” started at least five years ago. In my opinion, the mobile evolution (or revolution) has reached a tipping point with the April 21st Google index. It wouldn’t surprise me to eventually see this index carry over into web search results. But, that’s just my speculation.

The worldwide shift toward online mobile access impacts every B2B business. Marketers should prioritize the pages that matter most to make mobile friendly by April 21st, followed closely by ensuring the entire website is responsive to all major mobile platform OS’ to ensure a good user experience and to be discoverable by Google’s mobile search index.

How prepared are you for April 21st?

Photo Credit: Google Mobile/shutterstock

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