April’s Mobile Algorithm Update Exposed

As the New Year brings new technology, this next generation of technology shapes the way users interact with the world. Google is no stranger to tailoring their products to serve a good user experience (UX), and reward those that keep UX at the forefront of their mind. In doing so, Google is making some drastic steps to address the fact that more and more users are turning to their mobile devices and expecting sites to respond accordingly.

Google recently announced: “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.” The announcement was pre-empted with Google attempting to send a warning, sending webmasters notifications via Google Webmaster Tools that their site had crucial mobile usability issues.

As an SEO, you are trained to stay ahead of the curve, or at least stay up to date on Google’s frequent changes to avoid potential penalties to your site. Below, we go over the details on Google’s forthcoming mobile algorithm update, and how to identify whether you may be at risk.

Here is a quick breakdown of the most notable changes:

  • Googlebot must be allowed to crawl CSS & JavaScript to pass the “mobile-friendly” test
  • Responsive design does not have a ranking benefit
  • Mobile friendliness is determined at the page level, not site-wide
  • Tablets will not be affected by this update
  • Google is currently working on a dedicated mobile index.

There are multiple routes to combat these changes, but first and foremost is testing your mobile experience, and identifying any shortcomings. Check the user behavior in Analytics, and see if mobile users are converting, visiting multiple pages, or bouncing straight from the SERP. There’s a good chance that if you have a responsive site designed with mobile in mind, your site is already in good shape. If you don’t, it’s time to start troubleshooting.

The first route would be switching over to a mobile-friendly website design. Google recommends that a responsive site or mobile-friendly site that offer an optimized experience on any device is the best practice. These sites can handle any resolution with changes in CSS files, which affect how the elements on web pages are presented. Computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets will all display the website in the best way possible. Over time, it can be much more cost-effective to build a responsive website and optimize it for all standard resolutions. However, mobile-only sites are also a viable alternative. Mobile-only sites allow you to have a separate site that gives you the option to optimize it for mobile users. The upside to these sites is that they are easier to build and generally cost less to maintain.

Google also recently announced, via Twitter, a list of common oversights that hold websites back from achieving the “mobile-friendly” status. Google is notorious for omitting helpful details from their algorithm updates, so be sure to follow these seven fixes.

  • Googlebot Limitations – Always allow Googlebot access to the JavaScript, CSS, and image files used by your website so that Googlebot can see your site like an average user.  (Helpful tool: “Fetch as Google” feature in Google Webmaster Tools)
  • Unplayable content – Ensure your videos and other media are viewable on mobile devices.
  • Faulty redirects – If there is a separate mobile site, make sure there are proper redirects set up for each desktop URL.
  • Mobile-only 404s – Redirect all desktop URLs to the proper mobile URL instead of serving a 404 or a soft 404 page.
  • CTA’s & interstitials – Create your CTA’s and interstitials with the UX in mind. If not done properly can really hurt the overall UX.
  • Irrelevant cross-links – Check all internal and external links to ensure they point to the correct equivalent page.
  • Slow mobile pages – Use Google PageSpeed Insights to view the speed of your site.

The bottom line is that it truly depends on what your site is focused on for you to decide on a mobile-only or responsive design. As long as you make your website user-friendly, resourceful, and relevant, you will have the opportunity to rank in highly in Google’s organic search results, regardless of the website type.

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