Mobile-friendly update fall out

July 27, 2015

Anyone with a client-facing website will find themselves at the mercy of search engine giant Google at some time or another. Boasting 1.17 billion unique searches per month worldwide, businesses cannot afford to not be visible there.

So when the world’s most popular search engine makes an algorithm update, how does it affect what kind of sites come up in a search?

Mobile optimization is crucial for any website that wants to captivate the smartphone generation, a huge demographic. When Google announced in February of this year that they were updating their mobile search technique, many webmasters rejoiced.

The purpose of the update, released on April 21, was to rank sites based on their mobile performance, and adjust search engine results accordingly. If your site is determined by Google to be “mobile-friendly,” then you can now expect to see it placed higher on the results page than sites which are not.

Google doesn’t often release too many details before an update, but announced the change was to be bigger than Google Penguin, introduced in 2012 to keep tabs on sites violating its terms of use, and Google Panda, a 2011 initiative formed to push higher-quality sites to the top of the search results page. The update was the biggest mobile-centered change Google has ever implemented.

So, is your site mobile-friendly? Google conducts the test by URL, not by domain, determining each page individually on how optimized it is for mobile viewers.

Of course, we associate desktop traffic mainly with work, and smartphones and tablet traffic with just about everything else. Suddenly, your site’s mobile presence is now more relevant than ever.

It can be considered as some basic Google housekeeping – polishing up their search results in order to provide a quicker, more concise experience for the user. But in the weeks after the update, many sites saw their traffic plummet – and it wasn’t due to the mobile update. Dubbed the “Phantom” update, many websites started to lose considerable hits at the beginning of May this year, and many blamed the new mobile performance change. But Google had produced another secret, deadly algorithm change.

Many sites who had published low-quality or “thin” content deemed by Google to be “un-useful” found their visitor count slashed almost overnight, the result of Google trying to fight back against webmasters who use certain keywords to enable their pages to shoot to the top of a search engine result list – only for users to be presented with a site with poor content upon clicking. Some sites saw their entire domain penalized due to a few pages of thin content.

Google knows it can cripple a business in just a few days by adjusting a site’s place on the results list, and many webmasters found themselves in the dark, with no prior warning alluding to the change.

Not all sites were impacted, but the ones that were seemed to be bigger, with HubPages, About.com and WikiHow all losing ranking. Some smaller sites did report a growth in traffic, but the losses outweighed the gains.

So with Google dominating the search market, sites must ensure they work closely with their developers to stay one step ahead of any more changes. We can’t predict the future, but we can prepare and act fast when changes hit.

In order to become and stay mobile relevant, there are a few things you can do to combat Google’s changes, including analyzing your mobile performance against that of desktop performance. Check your mobile URLS and search visibility, establish how dependent your site is on thin content, then consult your developer to discuss how you can stay mobile relevant, and Google update resistant.

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