This article is being shared courtesy of Forbes
By now, your site should be optimized for mobile access. If it isn’t, you’ve got about 3 weeks left, as of the time of this writing.
Mobile user experience has been evolving over the course of the past decade, with a greater percentage of online searches being performed on mobile devices every year. Addressing this trend, Google has made strong efforts to accommodate mobile audiences, tailoring its search results to favor sites that are suitably optimized for mobile use. For example, a responsive-designed website will always perform better in search results than its non-mobile optimized counterpart in mobile searches, and mobile-friendly sites are marked with an appropriate “Mobile-friendly” tag in search results, increasing their click-through rate from search engine results pages.
The ranking boost you get from having your site optimized for mobile has been significant, yet not overwhelming. Millions of sites have fared just fine despite not being optimized for a mobile user experience, and yours may very well be one of them. Unfortunately, this respite will not last much longer.
As announced by Google in a recent blog post, Google is currently working on a significant structural algorithm change that will increase its emphasis on mobile-usability as a ranking factor. Once rolled out, the algorithm change is expected to have a significant impact on search results; Zineb Ait Bahajji, a member of Google’s Webmaster Trends team, was quoted at SMX Munich as saying that the new mobile-friendly algorithm change will have more of an impact on search rankings than either Panda or Penguin, two of its most impactful search algorithm updates Google has ever rolled out.
The algorithm change will be rolled out gradually worldwide starting on April 21st of this year. That gives you about 3 weeks to get your site updated before you start seeing the consequences.
Just Another Update?
The search giant seems to make near-constant updates to its search protocols. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this upcoming April 21st update is something like the last few we’ve seen—a data refresh or some small tweak that leads to almost imperceptible changes in search rankings for only a handful of businesses.
Unfortunately for currently non-optimized businesses, this doesn’t appear to be the case. With one of Google’s own recently explaining that this latest algorithm rollout is set to have a bigger impact than either Panda or Penguin, and considering Panda and Penguin are the biggest algorithm updates we’ve ever seen from Google, this new mobile update could completely change how we look at search.
As for the specifics of the update, those remain ambiguous. Google has not released any details about how this new change will affect the way “mobile friendliness” is measured, or how exactly it will factor into a site’s search visibility. My suspicion is, considering the level of impact the update is projected to carry, any site without any mobile-friendly qualities will dramatically drop in ranking in mobile searches, and minimally-optimized sites will experience negative fluctuations. Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that April 21st will be more than “just another Google update.”
The April 21st timing may not hold any special significance, but Google’s overall motivation for the update is clear. In fact, it’s the same motivation that’s driven their other game-changing algorithm changes, like Panda, Penguin, and Pigeon.
At its core, Google wants users to have a great online experience. They want their users to easily find exactly what they’re looking for, and they want their users to end up on high-quality, easy-to-use sites. This is why they rolled out Panda, which favored sites with high-quality content, and Penguin, which weeded out sites using spammy offsite practices, and it’s why they’re making a move to improve mobile online experiences with this April 21st update.
Like with every other iteration of Google’s algorithm, your goal should be to make your users happy. If you give your users a great experience, Google will reward you for your efforts.
That being said, you may already have a mobile optimization strategy in place—if this is the case, chances are, you’re already set. The new algorithm change won’t have much of an effect on you, though you may see a jump in rankings as your non-mobile-friendly competitors occupying spots above you in the rankings fall below you. On the other hand, if you have yet to optimize your site to be mobile-friendly, you’ll need to take action immediately with these three steps:
• Make sure your site is optimized for mobile. This may seem obvious, but it’s the most important step. You can host a separate, mobile-friendly version of your site or just implement a responsive design to be compatible with all devices. However you do it, make sure your site is smoothly accessible from any device.
• Check your crawlability. Verify that Google’s crawlers are able to see your site on mobile—if they can’t, it will be like your site isn’t responsive at all.
• View your site page-by-page for compatibility. It’s important that each page of your site is optimized for mobile viewing.
If you’re confused about what is and what is not considered “mobile-friendly,” Google can help you out. While the details of the April 21st update are still under wraps, Google does offer its own Mobile-Friendly Test, which can help you determine the compatibility of your site. In addition, you can check out the Mobile Usability Report in Webmaster Tools to ensure your site is found without errors.
You may find the following resources helpful:
There you have it. This is your last chance to get your site optimized for mobile before the April 21st update rolls out—if you fail to get your site mobile-friendly in time, your rankings and mobile search visibility may drop significantly.
Moving forward, don’t be surprised if more, similar updates follow. As mobile use continues to grow, Google is only going to care more about high-quality mobile experiences.