If you don’t have a mobile or responsive site, on April 21 you will find it more difficult to rank in Google’s mobile search results.
Google announced algorithm updates that will have a “significant impact” on mobile search results worldwide for mobile searchers. The update improves rankings for sites that provide a mobile-friendly experience to searchers on mobile devices, and, by association, demotes sites that do not.
Note that the mobile-friendly update only affects mobile search results — i.e., searches from smartphones and tablets — not searches conducted on a desktop or laptop computer.
In addition, the algorithm is applied worldwide, page by page, on a real-time basis. “Worldwide” means that the algorithm update affects mobile searchers and search results in all countries at the same time, rather than just rolling out in the U.S. first.
“Page by page” means that each page’s mobile friendliness is judged separately. That’s good news if your ecommerce catalog is mobile friendly but your forums or other content sections are not. The unfriendly sections will not cause your entire site to be ranked as unfriendly.
“Real time” means that you can expect to see the mobile ranking benefit of making your site mobile friendly right away. The next time Googlebot crawls your pages and determines that they are newly mobile friendly, the mobile-friendly ranking algorithm would kick in for those pages. This is especially good news because some algorithm updates have been processed on a monthly or unknown time cycle and applied to the algorithm in batches.
Beware, though, because real time also works both ways. If an update were made to your site that makes pages unfriendly, the mobile-friendly ranking algorithm would kick in for those pages the next time your site is crawled.
In addition, content from indexed Android apps can now be ranked in search results for searchers who are signed in to Google and have that Android app installed on their mobile device. Since Google would have no access to Apple’s iTunes database, iOS apps would not be included in this app ranking improvement.
Google’s stated goal is to improve searcher experience. It’s frustrating to search on a phone and land on a page that’s so tiny you can’t accurately click the links without pinching and zooming and scrolling to find the right text or links.
Google is converting that frustration into an improvement in its search results, so that more mobile searchers will land on sites with positive mobile experiences. It makes sense from the searcher’s perspective, which is what matters to Google.
But from an ecommerce perspective, it could possibly be a very costly update in terms of lost mobile traffic and revenue.
Example of Mobile Impact
Say you use your smartphone to search for “formal dresses.” Starting April 21, the results on your smartphone will be reordered based on the relative mobile friendliness of the sites. The image below shows my mobile search result for “formal dresses.”
Keep in mind that the mobile search result is probably personalized in some way. Your mobile search results may vary. The important thing to note is that the first, second, and fifth organic search results are already deemed “Mobile-friendly,” as I have highlighted above.
Google has already been annotating mobile-friendly pages for searchers, in an effort to help influence mobile searchers toward a better mobile experience.
On April 21, the annotation will become part of the ranking algorithm, affecting the order of search results directly. In Google’s words, the change will have a “significant impact” on search results for mobile searchers.
The burning question is how significant the impact will be.
Will the fifth ranking site move up to the third place, ahead of the non-friendly sites so that the new ranking order becomes 1, 2, 5, 3, 4? Or will the sites that rank third and fourth today disappear completely from the first page of results, so that only mobile-friendly sites grace the first page? There’s no way to know until April 21. And that date is here!
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