Google has announced that from April 21st it will be ‘expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal’.
Here are a handful of thoughts and recommendations on some actions you may want to take around that.
These are not designed to be comprehensive, but hopefully to cover some of the areas other blog posts may not.
1. This will be a big, big talking point, but do try not to panic
Lots of SEO agencies will send out emails to their clients instructing them they need to go responsive. Clients will most likely bite their tongues rather than replying ‘tell me something I didn’t know five years ago’.
The fact that Google put out the message may help some gain extra buy-in to push ahead with dev changes but, realistically, unless you’re a small site or the project is already in motion, six weeks isn’t long enough for most businesses to make a full change.
It’s important to note here that:
- We won’t actually know the scale of the effect here until April 21st.
- Google does say it will be ‘expanding’ mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal, which implies it is already in place, therefore it’s not something entirely new.
In summary: try to avoid panicking, but do take logical actions based on your business’s position.
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.
2. Is tablet considered ‘mobile’?
In some instances Google considers Tablets to be ‘mobile’, in others it does not.
Google has not said explicitly one way or the other whether these ‘mobile as a ranking signal’ changes will affect tablet. I’d assume for now it won’t affect tablets (as Ahmed Khalifa pointed out – Google’s mobile testing tools focus on phones), but wouldn’t rule it out.
3. Look at your own search landscape
To some this will seem obvious, to others perhaps not: if none of your search competitors have mobile friendly sites, your traffic probably won’t drop too much.
If all of your competitors are already mobile friendly, and you are not, Google’s announcement indicates you may suffer lower results on mobile while your competitors remain afloat.
Take a look at your top referring search terms (often you have to now take these from Google Webmaster Tools, as Google hobbled the ability to see most organic keywords), check on a phone to see where you sit among competitors for each of the larger ones, and which of your competitors are currently marked ‘mobile friendly’.
From that you can get a rough idea of whether you’re likely to gain extra traffic, or sink.
An obvious strategy if it looks like you’re going to lose traffic is to try to bridge the gap with paid search.
It’s surprising how well some ‘non-mobile’ sites convert on mobile (in some cases not so far behind roughly equivalent mobile sites; I’ve even done a couple of A/B tests where the desktop view of a site has outperformed mobile view on phones, albeit admittedly that’s rare).
If your site does convert well on a phone, despite not being mobile friendly, it may be worth upping your mobile bids after you’ve seen the effects of this change.
If you don’t fancy spending hours checking mobile search engine results page, Chrome has a neat little feature for emulating various phones. Open up Developer Tools (settings > more tools > developer tools, or ctrl+shift+i on a PC) and click the little phone Icon to open it up.
Google’s post says the change applies to all languages. It’s important to remember that different countries are at wildly different points on the mobile uptake curve.
For example – in the UK it’s not totally uncommon to see a site that bumps above 50% phone traffic at certain times in the day. In Germany that’s far rarer.
Depending on your primary markets, this change may be a worry, or you may have some breathing space.
Do spend some time taking a look at the difference in organic mobile behaviour for your sites vs organic desktop behaviour. Often it varies quite dramatically.
‘Homepage landers’ vs ‘non-homepage landers’ is a particularly important split to look at: Often on mobile, a greater proportion of organic traffic lands on the homepage.
In all likelihood, sites will probably not drop in search results for their brand terms, which usually drive the bulk of homepage traffic.
6. New vs. repeat Visits
It’s also worth mentioning that the change *may* affect repeat visitors less than new.
If you’ve visited a site before on your phone, you’ll notice Google are very quick to suggest that autocompleted suggestion as the page you may be looking for even before you’ve finished typing the brand name (ie. the search result never appears, simply the URL as an autocomplete).
It will also be interesting to see whether Google amend their ‘new visitor’ autocomplete behaviour on the basis of this. On Android it’s not uncommon to start typing a search term into your phone, only to be presented by the actual URL you’re looking for as an autocomplete suggestion, even when you have not previously been to that site/page.
Of course this is a highly subjective area. Google put out limited information (for example, as Ginny Marvin pointed out recently, they themselves have avoided discussing their own mobile performance for quite a long time).
If you have any thoughts, or any advice for anyone looking at this Google announcement with worry, do add them to the comments below.