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Google’s updates always have a fear factor for webmasters, and for good reason. Algorithms have the power to kill your SEO overnight.

When Google’s first mobile friendly update (AKA Mobilegeddon) rolled out in April of last year, nearly half of non-mobile friendly pages lost rank:

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For some, the ominous update seemed a little subdued – most pre-designed website themes you find these days are mobile-optimized, so the webmasters using them weren’t affected.

But now the second mobile update is upon us, promising more of an impact. It might not be the actual end of the world, but here’s what it can do to your SEO.

Mobile Friendly Pages

Google announced back in March that the next mobile friendly update would basically increase the effect of the current ranking signal, so searchers can find more pages that are mobile friendly.

They also said specifically, “If you’ve already made your site mobile-friendly, you will not be impacted by this update.”

Google announced back in October 2015 that mobile search volume surpassed desktop search for the first time in history. And recent ComScore research shows the continued decline of desktop usage well into 2016:

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So if you have pages on your site that aren’t mobile friendly, Google sees no need to penalize them across devices. This mobile friendly update, just like the last, will only affect mobile search results.

If you aren’t sure whether or not your site is mobile friendly, Google’s Mobile Friendly Test tool can help. All you have to do is plug in your site URL, and it will tell you if it’s mobile friendly:

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It will also show you how your site renders on mobile devices.

So if you pass the test, your pages won’t be affected by the update. In fact, you might even see an improvement in search rank.

On the other hand, if you don’t pass the test, you’re at risk. To see for yourself, go to Google Analytics and look at your traffic by device. If you see a big difference in your search traffic from mobile versus your search traffic from desktop, you might have been affected by the update.

Since the algorithm only affects certain pages, it can take a while for Google to crawl everything and make the changes. But the second mobile update was rolled out in May, so we can start to see the impact now.

Stone Temple Consulting did an analysis and saw that the update affected only 1% of non-mobile friendly URLs in the top 10 results:

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Google also reminded us in their blog post that just because one of your pages isn’t mobile friendly doesn’t mean it will rank poorly in search: “… 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 well if it has great, relevant content.”

That explains why so few of the top 10 results were affected – if you offer great content and have otherwise great SEO, you’re at less of a risk.

But non-mobile friendly pages overall do have something to worry about with the update, because they’re much more likely to lose rank.

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It would seem that Google’s second mobile update has delivered exactly what was promised – non-mobile-friendly pages are further penalized, and mobile friendly pages are further rewarded in rank.

Still, that shouldn’t be the end of your worries about Google’s mobile updates.

Page Speed for Google’s Third Mobile Update

In June, Google’s Gary Illyes spoke at the Search Marketing Summit in Sydney, saying that page speed will be a factor in the next mobile friendly update. We can expect to see this one to roll out in “months.”

This means the next mobile update is going to be about much more than passing the Mobile Friendly Test. Mobile page speed dives into your site’s usability and user experience, and it could mean big impacts for poorly optimized sites.

The good news is this algorithm update hasn’t happened yet, and all the tools you need are already available to analyze and fix your mobile site speed. Just go to Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.

Type in your site URL, and Google will show you a detailed analysis of your page speed issues for desktop and mobile:

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If your site has mobile speed issues, I really recommend you take care of them as soon as possible. Preventing an algorithmic penalty is way easier than recovering from one.

Here’s why:

Say you have site speed issues, Google launches Mobile Friendly 3, and you get penalized.

Even if you improve your site speed right away and get 100/100 on your Mobile Speed Test, Google won’t take these changes into consideration until they run the algorithm again. This can take months.

Google’s Mobile Guidelines

Up until this point, websites that have a responsive design haven’t had to worry about Google’s Mobile Friendly update. But with the introduction of mobile site speed as a factor, that’s all about to change.

And while Google hasn’t revealed what other factors will come into play in future mobile friendly updates, you can bet they’re already in Google’s Mobile Guidelines.

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The guidelines are extensive, but they’re worth the read if you want to keep up on mobile friendly updates in the future. And the fact that Google has plans to launch a third mobile update within a year of the first shows that the algorithm’s only going to get more complex.

So I recommend following these guidelines to a T. You should also check for mobile usability errors every time you make major changes to your site.

To do this, go to Search Console in Google Analytics and select your property. Then go to Search Traffic > Mobile Usability.

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Here you can see if there are any problems with your mobile site’s usability:

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Pay Attention to User Experience

Google’s Mobile Friendly Update isn’t out to catch black hat SEO tactics like many of the others. The update is a response to an important trend – people are using their mobile devices more and more for search.

Google wants to provide the best user experience for people on mobile. And as a webmaster vying for rank, you should too. Check out these statistics:

  • Mobile users are five times more likely to abandon a task if the site isn’t optimized for mobile
  • 48% of users say they feel frustrated and annoyed on sites that are poorly optimized for mobile
  • 60% of consumers use mobile exclusively to make purchase decisions

Google knows that simply having a responsive design isn’t enough to ensure good mobile user experience. So you can be sure other factors will start to affect your mobile SEO soon, like these common mobile usability mistakes:

Unplayable content

If your site hosts content that is licensed-constrained or requires Flash or another program, it might not be supported for mobile devices.

To avoid this problem, Google recommends using HTML5 standard tags for videos or animations.

Faulty redirects

If you have separate URLs for your mobile pages, make sure the desktop URLs redirect to the correct mobile version:

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Small font size

Small font sizes force visitors to pinch and zoom to read on your site. Google recommends using a minimum font size of 16 CSS pixels.

Interstitial ads

An interstitial ad partially or completely covers content on the page, and Google does not like them. Many mobile sites use these to advertise their native app.

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Google recommends using banner ads instead so you don’t interrupt your mobile site’s user experience.

Poorly placed touch elements

Put touch elements like buttons and links too close together on your pages, and mobile users can’t easily tap one without tapping the other.

Optimizing these elements really depends on each device size. But you can get an idea by using BrowserStack or another tool that lets you see how your content looks on different phones and browsers.

Mobile-only 404s

If content is available on your desktop site, Google wants to see it on your mobile site as well. Delivering 404 errors on mobile pages only is bad for UX.

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Use Google’s Crawl Errors report to see if any of your URLs have smartphone-only 404s.

So, How Could Google’s Second Mobile Update Affect Your SEO?

The takeaway here is that a Mobile Friendly penalty won’t kill your search rankings – yet. Especially if you have great content and SEO otherwise, you shouldn’t see too much of an impact.

But I think Google’s been slow about turning up the mobile friendly signal for a reason. Just now they’re starting to add other mobile UX factors to their algorithms, because they’re encouraging webmasters to get with the program.

Major rank penalties for important mobile signals are definitely on the horizon. Follow Google’s Mobile Guidelines and recommendations, and you won’t have to worry about them.

What do you think the impact of the next mobile update will be? Tell me in the comments:

Images: Wall Street Journal, Business2Community, Stone Temple Consulting, Google Developers

 

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Andrew Raso
General Manager & Co Founder
Andrew is the General Manager of the Online Marketing Gurus and heads up our SEO, SEM and Account Management department to drive excellence for OMG. Andrew has been featured on Skynews, Deloitte Fast 50, BRW Fast 100 and the Telstra Business Awards.