We all know Google is the undisputed king of all search engines and makes up the lion’s share of all online searches, so when they make significant changes to the way they rank sites it’s time to listen up.
SEO D-day is just 2 weeks away. Are you ready?
If you own a site/blog or have any type of online presence whatsoever I suggest stopping everything you’re doing with your business right now, carefully read through this article, and take any necessary actions ASAP.
As I write this it’s a Sunday evening and the Easter long break is almost coming to an end.
But instead of having enjoyed a nice relaxing weekend I’ve literally locked myself away in my apartment for the past few days from dawn till dusk scrambling to finish preparing all of my sites for the upcoming search rankings shakeup that has the acute attention of the entire SEO world.
But what’s all the fuss about, and is it even a big deal? In a word – absolutely!
The Lowdown on Google’s Major Mobile Update
Google recently announced that starting April 21st they will start using a site’s “mobile-friendliness” as a significant ranking factor in mobile search results.
Should you be worried? I mean, it doesn’t really sound all that bad right?
Well, let me explain why this is actually HUGE news in the SEO and online business world and why you must pay attention.
The more search traffic you already receive, the more painful the update could be for you and your business, but it will affect all sites no matter how well established.
These are the key points if you’re short on time:
Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.
This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.
As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns.
Here’s what Neil Patel (founder of CrazyEgg and Kissmetrics and widely respected marketer and SEO specialist) has to say about it:
My basic predictions are that non-optimized pages will virtually drop from mobile rankings and possibly desktop rankings. I predict that any page lacking mobile optimization will cease to rank for head terms. I predict that SERP results on page 1 for longtail keywords above a certain search frequency threshold will feature mobile-friendly only pages.
So basically, if your sites aren’t properly optimized for mobile in the way that Google likes, you’re risking losing ALL of your mobile traffic which makes up a significant portion of all searches online, AND you’re risking losing desktop rankings too.
To further drive the point home, an insider at Google said the mobile update will have a larger impact than either Panda or Penguin.
For those out of the loop and confused as to what two cute animals has to do with SEO – Panda and Penguin were the innocent names given to 2 recent changes in Google’s ranking algorithms.
Panda targeted low-value, thin and duplicate content, and Penguin penalized sites that used dubious or “spammy” link-building, and when they were released to the unsuspecting SEO world (Google didn’t announce them beforehand like they have done with this coming update) they were far from cute innocent animals.
Panda and Penguin gave many sites huge traffic hits, with some sitesliterally wiped off the map. They changed the SEO game forever, and so to hear about the coming mobile update being on the same level or even more impactful will no doubt make even the most experienced webmasters and marketers a little anxious.
Why Mobile Search is Absolutely Crucial
It’s been a long time coming as mobile has been quietly growing in relevance in recent times, but it’s now reached boiling point and from now on if you don’t keep up with the mobile trend you’re going to be seriously left behind.
This update will be well on the radar of savvy marketers at the forefront of SEO happenings, but many people including a lot of big name companies and bloggers are still out in the cold and could very well be hit hard come the end of April.
Either they’re totally unaware of the upcoming major update (unless you have connections in SEO who are nice enough to inform you or you regularly keep up with the latest happenings yourself it’s easy to have let this news slip under your radar), or they don’t realize just how much of an impact mobile search has.
Mobile is the way of the future and currently makes up a massive chunk of all overall searches online.
Some industries receive up to 50% and even more of total online searches from mobile devices. That’s insane.
If you have 50% of your organic traffic coming from mobile, that’s a potential 50% loss of traffic (and therefore sales) when the Google search changes roll out.
When I first found out about the big update, I realized I still had a couple older sites that weren’t mobile friendly at all. When you view these sites on a small screen you have to pinch and zoom in to read content, and clicking links comfortably is a bit of a nightmare.
I’m sure you know what I mean and it makes for a frustrating user experience which is exactly what Google will be cracking down on, so the new changes are a good thing for search technology moving forward.
I went straight to check how much traffic these sites of mine were receiving from mobile and was quite astounded. I knew I was getting a decent amount of traffic from mobile, but as my data from Google Analytics shows in graph below, a whopping 32.4% of my total traffic came from mobile.
That’s one third of my entire traffic from mobile. That’s crazy to me and took me by surprise, and it’s not even in an industry that I thought would be popular with mobile users.
My other sites show similar data, and I’m sure it’s the same story for most other site owners these days.
If you’re wondering “hey what about tablets, will their searches be affected by the changes too?”. Good question, and from what I hear they won’t be included in Google’s April axe, but they very well could be in the future.
Anyway, when I found out how much traffic I was potentially going to lose from my non mobile-friendly sites, the next few days were spent with an almost possessed-like tunnel vision to convert these sites to mobile-friendly versions.
Don’t fret, it only took me so much time and effort because these sites of mine were built on an older platform which was difficult converting to mobile. Chances are it won’t be hard at all to convert your own site if you’re not already mobile-friendly, especially if you’re got a WordPress site (I’ll get to the how-to in just a moment).
So what’s a small time online entrepreneur like you and I to do in the face of big-daddy Google?
As I said these changes won’t surprise savvy marketers, but whereas before you could ignore how your sites function on mobile devices and get away with it – come April 21st you simply cannot afford to be lazy with it anymore.
There’s no need to panic though as for most people it’ll be very simple to get into Google’s good books if you’re not already.
The only reason it personally took me days and days of work to convert my own sites as I mentioned is because some of them were built on an older and outdated platform. If you use WordPress or another current platform it should very straightforward for you.
How to Test Your Site for Mobile-Friendliness
Go to the free Google Mobile-Friendly Test and enter your site URL. If Google deems your site mobile-friendly you’ll see a green message with the good new that your site is in the clear.
Otherwise you’ll get a red message of doom and some reasons as to why your site isn’t mobile friendly.
Another way to confirm is by searching for your site in Google on a mobile device. If your site is all clear you’ll see the words “mobile-friendly” next to your search listing, directly below where it shows your site URL.
You can also find out more details about how Google sees your site’s mobile responsiveness if you have a Google Webmaster Tools account (you can sign up for free if you don’t have one). When you’re logged in click on “search traffic” in the left sidebar and then click on “mobile usability”.
I would also suggest you actually test your sites on various mobile devices if you can.
If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, these are the typical culprits that causes a negative user experience in the eyes of Google:
- Your page content is wider than the screen which is annoying for users because they have to scroll from side to side to see the entire page.
- Links are too close together making it difficult to click them without zooming in.
- Text is too small to read comfortable without your readers zooming in.
How to Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly
Let’s get to business. You’ve basically got 2 options to get into almighty Google’s good books.
1. Make Your Site Design Mobile-Responsive
This is the simplest and quickest way to make your site mobile-friendly, and will be just fine for most cases. It’s also what Google recommends.
A responsive design is a flexible layout that automatically adapts to fit a variety of screen sizes, resolutions and devices. But don’t be confused by that in any way – if you have a WordPress site it’s simply a matter of getting a theme that is mobile-responsive and you’re good to go.
Most quality themes these days are mobile-responsive, but if yours isn’t then either switch to a theme that is (premium themes like Genesis and Thesis have excellent mobile designs – I personally use Genesis for some of my sites) or install a plugin like WP Touch.
2. Create a Separate Mobile Site
This is the more complicated way, and not recommended unless you really need it.
It involves either having a separate site that runs through the same URL but shows different HTML and CSS coding when viewed on mobile devices, or alternatively having a separate site than runs on a different URL that typically looks something like “m.yoursite.com”.
A large reason why this approach isn’t so great is because any changes that you make to your main site won’t translate into your mobile version, so it essentially creates a double work load to maintain a site.
Make Your Changes NOW
Whilst Google has given a direct date for the update, it’s very possible that they’ve already kicked in the algorithm changes to some degree – perhaps for certain data centers and/or certain search phrase.
Whatever you do, DON’T wait to make your sites completely mobile-friendly.
The sooner you do it the more chance you have of avoiding any penalties and possibly even seeing a nice boost in traffic.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when you make changes to your site it can take a while for Google to re-index your site, but there IS a way around this (just don’t rely on it).
This is what you do. Once you’ve updated your site you can give Google a slight hurry on if you follow these steps:
- Log into Google Webmaster Tools
- Click on “crawl”, then click “fetch as google”
- Select “mobile smartphone” from the “desktop” drop-down menu
- Now click “fetch and render” and you’re done
Just a Couple More Things to Note
Before I leave you to it, there’s a few specific details about the upcoming mobile update that you should be aware of, especially the last point which is a biggie:
- The algorithm changes will be applied in real-time meaning that if you were to make your site mobile-friendly AFTER the Google update kicks in then your site could possibly be deemed safe on the next crawling of your site. But it’s better to be safe than sorry and get ready beforehand, and who knows how long it could take for your site to recover if you lose your traffic.
- The algorithm changes will be made on individual pages and NOT side-wide. What that means is if some pages on a certain site are mobile-friendly and others aren’t, those that are mobile-friendly could get a boost on mobile searches whilst the ones that aren’t may be dropped.
- Given how much emphasis Google is placing on mobile-friendliness, the algorithm changes could also directly or indirectly impact desktop search result rankings now or in the future.
- Now would also be a good time to make sure your site loads fast because site speed is proven to effect your search rankings AND internet connections on mobile devices are almost always slower so site speed matters even more on mobile. There are tons of different ways to speed up a site but this article is a good starting point. Check your site speed with this free Google speed tool (they also give you some tips on where you can improve).
If you’re good to go then hopefully you’ll soon receive a handy boost in traffic (and hopefully sales) soon.
Please share this post with anyone who you think may benefit from it. Or if you’re a competitive beast who wants to have one-up on your unassuming competition, just keep it between you and me 😉
Either way, good luck!