Last year, Google made headlines when it released a so-called “mobilegeddon” update, which sent the procrastinators of the web world scrambling to get their sites updated for mobile friendliness. Now, nearly a year after the original mobile update, Google looks like it’s gearing up for another mobile-oriented refresh. Could this be another mobilegeddon-level release? And if so, what should you be doing about it?
The Original Mobilegeddon
Let’s start by clarifying exactly what the original mobile update was and wasn’t. Though the majority of Google’s game-changing updates came in quick and without warning, mobilegeddon stood apart from this norm. More than two months in advance, Google proactively warned webmasters that there would be a massive update on April 21st, refining ranking criteria for sites based on their level of mobile compliance.
Up to this point, mobile optimization had been a ranking factor for both mobile and desktop search results, with more significance to the former for obvious reasons. If your site wasn’t optimized for mobile (e.g., your content wouldn’t load properly on mobile devices, or users would be forced to scroll and zoom to read your main content), it would suffer a mild ranking penalty. Mobilegeddon (which is not the official name for the update, by the way) was created to increase the severity of the ranking differentials here, making it far less likely that non-mobile-compliant sites would make it to the top of either mobile or desktop search results.
The search community went into mild panic, amplifying the warning beyond its simplistic message. Many neglected to point out that Google gave clear instructions and ample time for webmasters to get their sites in order—it even launched a free mobile-friendly tool that tells you exactly what’s wrong with your site (and supplementary help guides to show you how to fix it).
Still, despite ample warning and accompanying community discussion, it took some webmasters by surprise when the update actually did roll out.
Mobilegeddon was a bit overblown by the community—the very fact that its name signifies some apocalyptic event should have been a dead giveaway that we were exaggerating Google’s intentions. However, there were some major effects from the update, especially after a few weeks of implementation.
(Image Source: Wall Street Journal)
Cumulatively, non-mobile-compliant sites ended up losing more than 12 percent of their total traffic. The majority of non-mobile-compliant sites dropped significantly in rank, while correspondingly, mobile-friendly sites gained in rank… almost as if Google had planned this out.
Google recently announced that it would be rolling out an update to the original Mobilegeddon algorithm. Due out in May of this year, the update will serve as an expansion and refinement of the original package, much as its Panda and Penguin updates saw multiple versions released in subsequent months and years.
Currently, we don’t have many details about this new update, but we do know it’s going to “boost” the effects of the original mobile ranking signal. According to the official announcement, if your site is already optimized for mobile devices, there’s no need to make any further changes. This is only going to affect you negatively if, for some reason, you still haven’t optimized your site for mobile devices.
It’s hard to say exactly how severe this increase will be. The update probably won’t be on the same scale as the original mobile-friendly update, but the effects from the two updates compounded together will be intense for any site still non-mobile-compliant. Since these sites are being penalized currently anyway, it’s unlikely that mobile-compliant sites will see any meaningful gains in rank.
If your site isn’t currently optimized for mobile, you’re a few years behind the times, and you’re currently suffering from an already-stiff mobile ranking “penalty”. However, there’s still time to get your site in tip-top shape before this new update rolls out. In fact, even if your site is theoretically mobile-compliant, it’s not a bad idea to run a quick audit to see if there’s anything you can clean up.
Google has a great help section for developers concerned about how to implement mobile-friendly designs and functionality.
(Image Source: Google)
As a quick reminder checklist, make sure your site is optimized for mobile in the following ways for all pages of your website:
Beyond that, most of your mobile optimization choices are aesthetic or oriented toward user experience, such as further decreasing page loading times or making the design more appealing for the average mobile user.
This obviously isn’t the first mobile update Google’s released, so don’t expect it to be the last. Currently, Google prioritizes great content over even the mobile-friendliness of a site, but as desktop traffic declines further and further, don’t be surprised if non-mobile-compliant sites eventually sink to the absolute bottom of the ranks. In the meantime, Google is stepping up its efforts in supporting app content in its search results, so consider hedging your search visibility bets by investing in a multifaceted mobile presence.