Don’t Get Penalized – Optimize! Google to Favor Mobile Sites with New Algorithm

by aschmidt

elvisWhen it comes to search engine optimization, the only thing constant is change, and this has been proven once again by Google’s recent announcement that a sweeping algorithm adjustment will take place on April 21st of this year. The purpose of this algorithm change is to address the phenomenal growth in mobile traffic on the ubiquitous search engine by favoring mobile-optimized sites over non-mobile-optimized sites in search rankings. This soon-coming overhaul, which was announced on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog in late February, represents one of the most dramatic shifts in Google’s approach to ranking signals since the company began.

As has been duly noted by many SEO experts, the very fact that Google has given a specific date for when the changes will take place–an unprecedented move–makes April 21st a game-changing date, and it should be treated as such by all online marketers who rely on organic search traffic for their businesses. 

What Can We Expect?

Formerly, a website’s mobile search rankings were often a function of how well the desktop version of the site would rank in Google. In other words, if your site ranked well in search results for desktop-based queries, you could generally expect your site to rank in a similar manner for mobile-based queries as well. Over time, as mobile search traffic has continued to grow at a blistering pace, it began to be implied (albeit never explicit) that Google started to count mobile-friendliness as one of its ranking factors for favorable search results.

This time around, however, Google is making it crystal clear that their intent is to begin favoring mobile sites in search results that come from mobile queries. As stated in their blog post, they expect this algorithm adjustment to have a “significant impact” on their mobile-based search results. Long story short, if your website has not been optimized for mobile devices by April 21st, it is all but certain that your search rankings will drop.

What You Can Do to Prepare for the Change

The algorithm adjustment coming on April 21st has substantial implications; if you haven’t yet developed a responsive website, it’s possible that much of the sweat equity you’ve invested into SEO could evaporate. Not only that, but if your competition has taken the steps to configure their sites for mobile usability, you could suddenly find yourself being outranked in the search results. Fortunately, Google hasn’t left webmasters out in the cold when it comes to preparing for the change; they’ve dedicated an entire section of their Google Webmaster Tools site to helping you test the mobile-friendliness of your site. Here’s what to do:

1. Visit Google’s “Mobile Friendly Test” page, enter the URL of the website that you want to test, and click “Analyze.”

2. Google will provide you with a quick synopsis of any issues that may affect the mobile-friendliness of your site, along with a screen shot of how your site looks on a mobile device. If your web page appears to be non-mobile-friendly, Google will provide you with a series of steps you can take to remedy the issue.

3. When making the needed adjustments to optimize your site for mobile, Google will suggest one of three configurations:

  • Responsive Web Design – This is where your HTML code and URLs remain the same, but the page will automatically be resized depending upon what type of device is viewing the content. (Note: This is Google’s recommended configuration.)
  • Dynamic Serving – This will utilize the same URL regardless of what device is viewing the content, but different HTML may be generated based on the device’s particular browser type.
  • Separate URLs – This will redirect users to different URLs for viewing content based upon device type.

Mobile vs. Desktop Search: The Potential Impact

What isn’t yet known is how much this change will affect search queries that originate from desktop computers. Again, it appears as though Google has been gradually moving towards favoring mobile-friendly sites in search results–whether desktop or mobile–for quite some time now, but their blog post makes it clear that the April 21st change is primarily aimed at mobile search queries. That being said, it’s dangerous to assume that there won’t be any bleed-through in terms of desktop-based search rankings as well.

While the April 21st adjustment may not initially produce any significant impact on desktop search results, it’s probably not a wise move to assume that it never will. Investing the time and effort to ensure that your website is compatible with mobile devices is a worthwhile endeavor, whether you see the effects of it now or sometime in the distant future.

Don’t let your SEO efforts go to waste – we can help you develop a mobile-friendly site for your business.

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