If their original 2015 “Mobilegeddon” offering is anything to go by, Google’s mobile-focused updates have a habit of attracting online attention, and a good deal of speculation, amongst search engine optimisation fraternities.
Thus Google’s March 2016 posting announcing their intention to ‘increase the effect of the ranking signal [from May, 2016] to help our users find even more pages that are relevant and mobile-friendly’ provided food for thought for most.
As Frederic Lardinois notes, Google have actually been banging the drum on mobile optimisation for some time, starting off by simply badge marking websites in 2014 before moving on to using this as ranking criteria a little later. Lardinois also cites Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) Project as evidence of this search engine’s ‘obsession’ with mobile speed of access. Though AMP doesn’t yet count as a ranking signal, Google does ‘prominently feature amp pages’ and Lardinois believes there’s more to come:
‘Chances are, it will start doing so in the future … it will then increase the importance of using AMP just like it did with its first efforts in ranking mobile-friendly sites higher.’
Much has been made of Google’s ‘almost unprecedented’ advance warning of planned algorithm changes in relation to mobile devices. And furthermore, as Emil Protalinski has observed, many still feel left in the dark because ‘the company didn’t share exactly how much of an impact it expects the change to have.’ Protalinski also helpfully lists the present Google site-rating criteria for gaining a ‘mobile-friendly’ tag which include features such as well-spaced links for easy tapping, avoiding Flash and similar software, and zoom-free legible text.
Commenting on what we may expect in May, Barry Schwartz is of the opinion that ‘you won’t see a major drop-off on non-mobile-friendly websites when the algorithm is pushed out’. Schwartz predicts a characteristic softly-softly approach, and says: ‘This kind of sounds like the slow Panda 4.2 rollout, but it is unclear if the rollout will take weeks or months.’ This assessment seems based on the fact that this will be ‘a page-by-page signal’ and with single-page indexing the crawl speeds are likely to be very slow – which effectively means it can’t be anything other than a gradual rollout.
Businesses will still need to think strategically – especially if they are geographically focused and thus dependent on local sources. For instance, Google now say a third of their US mobile searches are local, and ‘on the go’ smartphone use is almost hitting 90 percent. That’s why a mobile-friendly site is so important for effective local SEO. The business reality, as Anurag Harsh puts it, is that ‘if your site is not mobile-friendly, it will begin to disappear from smartphone users’ search results in May.’
It remains to be seen whether this latest Google diktat will prove to be all it’s (perhaps) hyped up to be. That said, it looks as if wise SEO’s will continue to drift along with this mobile-friendly flow in heads-up mode. Past experience suggests it’s very possible that May’s developments will just result in relaxed, low-profile ranking changes, and later we may look back and see a process rather than an event – just one more round of Google’s change-management strategy. However, it does seem that a course has been set for the longer term and this mobile-friendly direction of travel will become an increasingly influential feature, which is reason enough to take timely steps to ensure your own web presence conforms to the new reality of optimal mobile access.
For those who would appreciate some feedback on how their site fares in the mobile-friendliness stakes, Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool is available to deliver a confidential interim verdict.