In less than 30 days, mobile search on Google will get a huge makeover and business owners need to be ready. Starting April 21st, Google will begin labeling some sites in mobile search as “mobile-friendly”. As we covered when the label was still being tested, this change can have a huge effect on the traffic some websites receive. In recent statements, Google has clarified how this change is going to take place.
The mobile-friendly algorithm update is a major change as every page displayed on search will have be judged mobile-friendly or not. So unlike most algorithm updates that affect a small percentage of searches, this has the potential to affect them all. This prospect has webmasters worried. Which is why Google took the precaution of having a Q&A session on Google Hangouts to discuss the algorithm update.
To recap what is known about the update, here’s what was discussed during the session:
Page by Page – Each page on a site is judged separately. So only the specific links that are mobile friendly will get the label when shown in search results.
Real-Time Updates – The labels will update frequently. This most likely means that whenever the pages are crawled by Google’s bots, the mobile friendly determination is made then, so webmasters don’t have to wait for the algorithm to be run again to see the benefits of changes they make after April 21.
Slow Rollout – Starting from April 21, the update will take several weeks to roll out and will eventually be spread globally.
Yes or No Test – The Google team on the Hangouts session confirmed that there was no middle ground, that pages were either mobile friendly or not. This is kind of common sense since it’s a label, the page either gets it or it doesn’t. Practically, what this measns is that if a page only has some of the elements of mobile friendliness but not others, it won’t get the label.
“As we mentioned in this particular change, you either have a mobile friendly page or not. It is based on the criteria we mentioned earlier, which are small font sizes, your tap targets/links to your buttons are too close together, readable content and your viewpoint,” the Google team said during the hangout, as transcribed on SEORoundTable. So if you have all of those and your site is mobile friendly then you benefit from the ranking change.”
Though much of the commentary on this change from webmasters has been negative, there are positive aspects to keep in mind. The main benefit is that this change offers an easy-to-gain advantage for website owners. The mobile-friendly label makes links more attractive to searchers. So website owners who make the effort required to become mobile friendly will be ahead of websites that don’t make update their site accordingly.
Second, the fact that Google has been so open about the change and how it will be implemented has given webmasters a lot of time to get things in order. There are even mobile-friendliness tests on Google that can be used to test a site and give advice for improvements. To be fair, Google says that the label will be determined by more than 200 factors so the tool doesn’t cover everything. It would’ve been great if they had made a Panda or Penguin compliance tool that came out weeks before they launched those updates.
Finally, producing a mobile-friendly site isn’t that hard. For sites built on the WordPress platform, there are several plugins (some free) that take the existing site and produces a mobile-friendly version with bigger texts, spaced out links, etc. There are similar web services that will do the same for other website types. So building a mobile-friendly site doesn’t necessarily mean rebuilding the entire site. All the same, if a business needs to make additional updates to their main site, now would be a good time to do it.
Like it or lump it, Google’s push for greater mobile-friendliness on websites is going to happen and it’s actually pretty good news for the sites that make the grade. Google has provided business owners and marketers with a lot of information, tools, and time to make the necessary changes, so all that’s left to do is to do it.
To get ahead start on a change that may be coming down the line, read this article about Google’s test of a “slow” label for certain sites.