It's nearly here. On April 21, Google will begin to use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. 

This move, dubbed 'mobilegeddon', is part of the trend for Google to focus on UX factors when ranking sites. 

Here are some of the sites that may need to take action...

Which sites will be affected? 

According to research from Somo, these are some of the sites that could be affected:

  • The official website of the British Monarchy
  • David Beckham's official site
  • MI5
  • The Official Website for the European Union
  • The Scottish National Party
  • Nintendo
  • Windows Phone
  • Versace
  • Next
  • American Apparel
  • RyanAir
  • Channel 4 
  • P&O Cruises
  • RyanAir
  • Cotton Traders
  • Danone
  • Legal and General
  • The Daily Mail

Many of these companies have apps but no mobile sites, such as Next, but while this may be OK for customers, it won't wash with Google. 

I'm surprised at any retailer which hasn't figured out the need for a mobile friendly site by now, and it's also strange that the Daily Mail hasn't optimised for mobile. 

Some sites on the list, including American Apparel, do actually have mobile sites, but Google doesn't judge them as mobile friendly. 

According to Maria Mitsostergiou, Head of Search at Somo:

This is down to the way a mobile site operates and gets customised based upon the various device screen widths. It is widely known that there are a lot of variations available, even if we consider the 'standard' resolutions currently used.

The cost of producing separate mobile versions according to each resolution is very high. Therefore, savvy advertisers tend to produce responsive web design sites to better control: (i) production costs; (ii) max-out the display of their site across different device sizes.  ​

As we know, mobile use in growing, and the threat of less visibility on mobile search should force many companies to take action. 

Those currently promoting poor UX or relying on low-cost solutions would be penalised by Google, reducing their potential to profit from mobile searchers. 

Grey areas

It is quite complex to judge what a 'good mobile' is, and Google has to do this via an automated process. While the poor usability of non-mobile sites like the Mail and Next is obvious, others can be okay to use yet still suffer from this change. 

American Apparel would seem to have cause for complaint, I've certainly seen plenty of less usable sites on mobile. 

While moves that seek to reward good usability are to be welcomed, there are a few questions around this update. 

Writing on this blog, Dan Barker outlined some of the grey areas, including the classification of tablets. Are they mobile as far as this update is concerned? 

I asked Maria: 

The foreseeing impact of Mobilegeddon is expected to be noteworthy on mobile only. Pre-launch indications imply that tablets will remain unaffected, which shows the clear differentiation of tablets and mobile.

However, it remains unclear how Google classifies the so-called 'phablets' and whether this category will be affected by the upcoming 'mobile-friendly' algorithm update].

What can companies do? 

Well, the obvious answer is to go mobile, and I can see plenty of new responsive sites being launched as a result of this update. 

However, the six weeks from Google's announcement to the ranking coming into effect doesn't provide much time for companies, and many may first want to assess the impact before rushing any updates. 

As Dan Barker writes, it may speed up some plans that are already in process: 

If you're a small site & have done nothing around becoming mobile-friendly so far, it may be worth the risk to try and quickly shift.

If you're a medium/large site & have not yet sorted out the mobile side of things, do get planning. It's likely you already began to plan several years ago, it's worth putting some actual timelines on achieving this.

It looks like Econsultancy launched a responsive site just in time... 

Graham Charlton

Published 16 April, 2015 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (4)

Dav McKenzie

Dav McKenzie, Client Relations Manager/Digital Producer at Beattie Communications

Interesting to see how many big names will be caught out.

Daily Mail don't want to be mobile friendly site and instead would prefer users to use their app. Strange strategy but I guess because of their domain authority and inbound links they shouldn't suffer too much!

over 2 years ago

Alex Quaye

Alex Quaye, Search Marketing at Hotel Chocolat

Very keen to see case studies from websites who are purposefully not launching mobile-friendly site variants in time for the 21st - Moz being a notable example. Worth keeping an eye out for that one!

over 2 years ago

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Chris Monkman, Web Developer at E-Dzine

To be honest, anything that keeps the daily mail from ranking isn't a bad thing. </rant>

On a lighter note, I didn't know about the 'mobile friendly' note googles putting up. Now feeling quite smug as pretty much every one of our recent jobs has that attached to it.

over 2 years ago

Westley Knight

Westley Knight, Senior UX Designer at N/A

It appears that Somo's research has a few holes. Both Next and RyanAir have separate mobile sites, http://m.next.co.uk and http://m.ryanair.com respectively. (RyanAir is also mentioned twice by the way :))

You say that "I'm surprised at any retailer which hasn't figured out the need for a mobile friendly site by now". Believe me they have, and at least the vast majority, if not all retailers are moving towards it.

The problem is that online retail, especially the sites of long standing, bricks and mortar stores, are largely dependant on their back end systems. Major investment is required if they are going to launch a fully responsive website.

B&Q spent the majority of its £60m on backend systems (https://econsultancy.com/blog/65704-b-q-on-its-new-website-most-of-the-60m-went-on-backend-systems), and I'm sure a lot of us have read about how the launch of the new Marks and Spencer site had a negative impact (https://econsultancy.com/blog/65244-where-did-the-marks-spencer-website-relaunch-go-wrong/).

I've been building designing and building responsive sites since the concept was introduced, but even today, the more I work on responsive projects, you discover how much more there is to think about than creating a front end that will work on any device.

Back on topic. As I understand it from Google, there will be impact on rankings from searches conducted on mobile devices, not across the board, and that the 21st isn't a deadline from which sites will not be able to recover, it's the release date for an algorithm change that won't run once, but will constantly be ranking pages and sites as they are updated over time.

As you say, many of the companies may want to assess the impact first, but many will already have those plans in place (as Dan Baker stated). As always, time will tell.

over 2 years ago

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