Clearing up Google's Mobile-Friendly Update

The purpose of this post is to highlight the key points as contained in Google’s announcement of the change, thus to amplify what the change is as much as what the change is not. To start lets take this to a higher level. What does Google search try to do? Well, when you search for a topic Google wants to deliver the best, most relevant result for you. Until now, with constant tweaks, that has sufficed and been enormously successful for Google.

But technology is changing. According to comScore, in 2015 the number of ‘mobile only’ internet users surpassed the number of ‘desktop or tablet only’ users. The venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in it’s 2014 Internet Trends Report, indicated that 25% of total web traffic was via mobile devices.

These usage facts are significant because the real estate available to view a website on a mobile device is inherently smaller than a tablet or a desktop. The experience of viewing a website is not satisfactory if one has to slide across to see the full width of your site, or have to pinch and zoom in order to accurately touch input areas that are simply a tiny version of the full website.

This, in essence, is what Google is working to remedy through this change. Simple, right?

Rather than serve up results to a user doing a search from a mobile device that may not be ‘good’ mobile experiences to view, Google has adjusted its algorithm to return search results that have a bias towards sites that are good mobile user experiences. In Google’s own words:

“We’re boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results. Now searchers can more easily find high-quality and relevant results where text is readable without tapping or zooming, tap targets are spaced appropriately, and the page avoids unplayable content or horizontal scrolling.” This clearly articulated goal has somehow been a source of much misinformation and uncertainty, intentionally or unintentionally,  by some marketers. For clarity, again quoting Google’s announcement, this algorithm update:

  • Affects only search rankings on mobile devices
  • Affects search results in all languages globally 
  • Applies to individual pages, not entire websites

Sites should have a mobile strategy to avoid being penalised in search results. However, this change only applies to results served by Google to a search from a mobile device. It does not impact results when searches are done from tablets or desktops. Additionally, while there is now a bias to mobile responsive sites, many other factors are used in search and these could trump the mobile factor. At the end of the day, Google is saying that the user experience is of growing importance to users, but content is still king.

How can you test if your site is mobile ready? Google has a free ‘Mobile Friendly Test‘ page. Go check your site now. Most web design professionals have ensured that the websites they develop and manage have been mobile compliant for the past few years. If you see an adverse result to your own ‘mobile friendly test’ you should contact your web professional to discuss any potential impact to your business.

Hopefully we have helped to demystify this search algorithm change. Google has a more extensive question and answer page here. Feel free to contact us directly is you have additional questions or want to discuss your website or marketing needs.