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Google’s Mobile Algorithm, Your Site And You: A Practical Perspective

The day has arrived and everyone’s talking about Google’s new mobile update–or Mobilegeddon as some industry observers has taken to calling it. I’m sure that you have heard some pretty wild and outrageous claims across the web (there was at one point a rumor that desktop results would not show sites unoptimized for mobile). And while it was easy to let our imaginations run wild regarding what changes the almighty Google had in store for us, the update is here. And we (well, most of us) are still standing.

Nothing that has happened today should change the way we fundamentally look at SEO practices. This update boils down to the fact that your mobile search results are going through some changes. Now, change may be hard, but it is this sort of change that is necessary for the internet to and the SEO industry to grow. If anything, this should be an opportunity for the industry to take a moment and think about why these changes are taking place and how this vision for the future should affect our best practices.

Separating Fact from Fiction

One of the prevailing rumors about the Google mobile update is that your site will be “penalized” if your site is not “mobile friendly”–optimized for mobile browsers. Let me be clear, this is not a punitive update like Penguin or Panda before it. Where as those updates were designed to penalize sites that were participating in spammy behavior, this update instead changes the way that SERPs are compiled on mobile browsers.

Rather than “penalizing” sites that are not mobile friendly, the update “gives preference” to sites that have been properly optimized. Now that may seem like splitting hairs, and for all intents and purposes, it is. The fact that sites who have failed to optimize will rank lower is a clear indicator that Google is de-valuing unresponsive site design in an attempt to further integrate the web into the mobile experience.

It is important to note that we’re talking exclusively about mobile browsers here, and not the desktop experience. This is because the update is currently only being applied to mobile searches. This means that you are going to notice a growing divergence in the way that Google displays search results on mobile devices vs. desktops.

And while this will be the norm for the foreseeable future, it will be important to track any trends that indicate an algorithmic bias towards mobile optimization on standard results as it could be an early warning sign that Google will be applying this update across all SERPs.

The Panic

Now, you and your blogging buddies might find yourself thinking “Oh my! I had better find a way to make my site ‘mobile friendly’ and fast! ”, but there’s no need for panic. Your entire site isn’t going to be devalued just because a few pages are not mobile friendly. This is due to the fact that the update will affect sites on a page by page basis, rather than “penalizing” or boosting entire domains.

There is something else to consider. The official date that Google has announced for the update is April 21 2015. However, the update’s roll-out could take a few weeks to take effect. Also, taking after the Penguin update, the mobile update will be continuous meaning that subsequent changes will happen in real time.

This should reassure webmasters and site owners. Instead of seeing drastic changes like we have in the past, the implementation of this update should be much more fluid allowing for sites to adjust course as the algorithm takes its final form.

Something New

When the update begins to take effect, Google will introduce something called “app indexing”. With this change Google will begin to index apps just like websites. This means that Google will be able to search for content within android apps, allowing users to see relevant content displayed in their search results.

This should be an interesting development–as it creates the potential for downloaded apps to outrank websites on certain queries. To what extent content from apps will be used in results pages has yet to be determined, but it certainly places an emphasis on the experience of the mobile user over and against that of the desktop user.

The concept of experience is something that needs to be addressed, especially in light of the changes that Google is undergoing. Whereas past updates have been the attempt of Google to address webspam and improve upon their existing algorithm, this update is in response to user trends.

In early 2014, mobile use exceeded desktop internet use, and with smartphone and tablet sales outpacing desktops, that trend is not going to be changing anytime soon. This means that people’s experience of the internet has fundamentally changed since the dominance of search engines was established. In a way, this algorithm is designed to address that change and provide a more seamless means by which mobile users are accessing and interacting with the web.

So when it comes to SEO, perhaps we should stop worrying about the little technical things that we can do to get that bump in the results and begin focusing on what the user wants. Fast load time, great content, clean site architecture. It goes back to that age old expression, “The customer is always right.” At the end of the day, the search industry has to stop developing new ideas and work on perfecting old ones. And it appears even Google could not innovate its way out of that conundrum.

P.S. Now the question on all of your minds is, “How do I tell if my site is “mobile friendly” anyway?” Google has provided us with this test so you can figure out which pages are and which ones aren’t. Happy optimizing!

Author bio

My name is Jacob Emmy. I work in SEO and marketing. I currently write for SEO Austin Inc. When I am not spending my time reading old books or tending my garden, I love to write about the future of the search industry and local SEO practices. Follow me on twitter or facebook.


1 Comment

Jacob Emmy

I know that this mobile update is new to us all, but I would love to be a part of the discussion. I’m also here to answer any questions to the best of my ability.

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