A major Google mobile update is scheduled for April 21st

Following significant revisions to Google’s search algorithm in 2014 (codenamed Panda and Penguin), a new and game-changing update to Google Search is again on the horizon. This Google mobile update is aimed at weeding out websites which provide low quality content and a poor user experience for mobile users. On April 21st 2015, the latest instalment in Google’s ongoing mission will be upon us…

Google mobile update

So what’s changing in the Google mobile update?

On February 26th, Google made the following announcement…

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

Further details have been released about the Google mobile update since then, and this is the bottom line…

Websites that don’t meet Google’s guidelines for mobile-compatibility will no longer show up in search results when that search is conducted from a mobile. Google have also stated that this may likely affect a website’s overall rankings, including search results on desktop browsers. After the Google mobile update, websites that provide a good mobile experience will now rank higher in search results than those that don’t.

To Google, a website is either mobile-friendly or it isn’t – yes or no – there is no partial “ok” result. The Google mobile update aims to address this. If your website isn’t mobile responsive and doesn’t meet Google’s standards, expect lower search rankings, less traffic, and fewer sales. If your business relies on the Web, you can’t afford to ignore the implications of this update – it’s a game changer.

If your site provides a poor mobile experience (on smart phones and tablets), you could well be discarding large numbers of customer conversions. Fixing this early could provide you with a massive opportunity to gain a competitive advantage on your competitors.

As a small business owner, you’ll doubtless be asking yourself the following:

  1. How will this Google mobile update affect my business?
  2. What should I actually do about it?
  3. What happens if I don’t do anything by April 21st?

Not everyone will be equally affected

In 2014, the number of Web users browsing with mobiles overtook those using desktop browsers. In 2015, it’s estimated that searches made using mobile devices will outnumber those made from the desktop. Mobile traffic is growing fast. This Google mobile update is huge, and will have a greater affect than either Panda or Penguin, both of which caused significant changes to global search positions.

For the small business owner, there are choices to be made and priorities to be assessed. It would  be easy for me to tell you how important it is for you to cater to the rapidly growing number of mobile devices being used to browse and search the Web, but what if you’re weighing the decision of upgrading against other marketing expenses, or the cost of hiring a new salesperson?

Information is key, so that you can make an informed decision. So let’s start by looking at what impact the Google mobile update might have on your current website traffic.

How much mobile traffic do you actually get from Google?

In order to fully gauge the likely impact of the Google mobile update on your business and the urgency with which you should act, your first step should be to look at the numbers – specifically the number of visitors who are browsing your website using a mobile, and the proportion of those who found your website via an online search. Once you’ve got an idea of those figures, you’ll be able to see for yourself.

Load your Google Analytics account, and navigate to Audience > Mobile > Overview. Here you’ll be able to check out the breakdown of your visitor numbers by desktop, mobile and tablet:

Google mobile analytics

This screenshot was taken on April 12th 2015. As you can see, for this site (an e-commerce client of Webpixel Media), mobile traffic alone accounts for over 70% of visitors to the website, and tablets represent almost another 10%.

It’s possible to drill down even further, and look at mobile traffic referrals from Search. To do that, click All Sessions from the Advanced Segment selector, and then click Organic Traffic to view the traffic volumes for your organic search results:

Google mobile search

Now you can gauge just how important your website’s mobile experience is for your current visitors, and decide how much of a priority it is to update your website in time for the Google mobile update on April 21st or not.

If you’re getting small amounts of mobile traffic (perhaps 5-10%), limited results from mobile search, and the majority of organic traffic you do get comes from searches for your brand name, then overhauling your website isn’t necessarily a desperate priority. But, if your mobile traffic is more than say 25%, and search traffic drives your earnings, you need to get your skates on…

What do I need to do?

Firstly you’ll need to make an informed decision as to whether it’s worth the cost of applying a potentially costly “rush job” for a new website design, or if it’s possible to install a quick short-term fix. No two websites are the same, and the costs and time required could vary significantly.

Having analysed your traffic, you should now have a clearer idea of the overall importance of the Google mobile update, and the financial impact it’s likely to have on your business. If your mobile search traffic is significant enough to warrant action before the April 21st update, it’s time to contact your designer or developer, and let them know your goals and your budget.

But, if mobile traffic just isn’t that important to you yet, don’t panic! Forget the Google mobile update deadline for now, but plan to get yourself in shape soon, with a website designed for today’s (and tomorrow’s) world.

Whatever course of action you decide to take in the coming weeks, it’s important to realise that in the months and years ahead, your percentage of mobile visitors is likely to explode, and not having a mobile-compatible website will no longer be a viable option. In a competitive marketplace, the choices you make now could affect your market share online for years to come.

Google mobile search update