Impact of Google's Mobile Usability algorithm change on April 21 - FAQ
Google is coming up with a major search algorithm change from April 21, 2015, which will have significant impact in the search results. Read this article to learn more about how the Google algorithm change can impact your website after April 21.
Google has been talking about "mobile friendly websites" for a while now. In last one year or so, most of the newly developed websites are developed as mobile friendly by default. A good number of existing websites were converted to mobile friendly templates in some or other manner. However, there are thousands of websites and blogs that are still not mobile friendly and those are the ones going to feel the heat after April 21, 2015, when Google turn on their new algorithm changes.
Many webmasters are confused on what exactly is going to happen on April 21 and what they need to do to keep their website continue to rank well in Google search results. I'm trying to answer some of the frequently asked questions and have provided the best ways to stay complaint with the guidelines to avoid major impact on their search engine ranking.
According to a survey by Google, only 46% of the web browsing is from desktop computers. Remaining are from other devices like mobile phones and tablets.
When is the algorithm change going to happen and penalize non-mobile friendly websites?
April 21, 2015 - that is the date Google is going to turn on the switch for it's mobile friendly algorithm change. All the ground work has already been done by the Google engineers and they are just waiting for the day to give enough time for all webmasters and bloggers to make their websites mobile friendly.
Who is Google to penalize the websites?
Well, this is not really a penalty. Google is just going to favour mobile-friendly websites in their mobile searches, that's all. If your website is not compatible with the guidelines from Google, it might lose some traffic from Google search and what you call it is up to you!
What did Google really say about the upcoming change?
This is what Google said a few weeks ago: ""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. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.""
Will the changes affect the whole site or only individual pages?
There is no official word from Google on how this is going to work. However, since this is not really a penalty, I'm assuming this is going to be on "per page" basis and not on the whole site. So, if 60% of your pages are mobile friendly, then the algorithm change is going to have a direct impact only on the remaining 40% of the pages. Your 60% pages will continue to get the traffic it deserves and remaining 40% non-compliant pages may lose significant traffic from mobile search.
How does it affect Bing and other search results?
This algorithm change is specific to Google and will not have any effect on other search engines like Bing. However, since Google is setting the standards in the search world, other search engines are very likely to follow the same anytime soon. Search engines like Bing may be making the algorithm changes without any official announcement, so it is possible that your traffic from Bing also will be affected in future, if not already.
How to recover, if I am late to implement the changes?
If you failed to make your website mobile friendly and if you think April 21 is too early for you to make all the required changes, try to get it done as soon as possible. Hire a professional company or some freelancers to make your website mobile friendly, if you are not comfortable making the required changes yourself.
If my site is penalized after April 21, how soon it can recover once I make the changes?
There is no clear information from Google on how often they refresh their data for mobile friendly compliance. I'm assuming that when Google re-crawls and re-indexes your pages, the ranking will be automatically updated dynamically. (However, if the ranking is on the website level instead of page level, you may have to wait until a data refresh at Google to reset the mobile friendly ranking for your entire website. As of now, I am assuming the ranking impact will be on page level and not on site level.)
Do we need to use responsive design?
Responsive design is one of many ways to make a website mobile friendly. You may follow any of the recommended approaches and it is not mandatory to follow responsive design specifically.
What are the other ways to make a website mobile friendly?
These are the most common ways of making a website mobile friendly:
1. Use a response template or follow responsive design while developing the template for your website. Most bloggers use standard platforms like WordPress and in such cases, they can switch to a responsive template.
2. Dynamically deliver content: In this approach, different content and page elements will be delivered according to the form factor and the capabilities of the devices.
3. Have separate mobile friendly pages for mobile devices. This will be a difficult approach since you will never know how many types of devices you will have to deal with and it may not be practical to come up with different versions of pages for each form factor. However, sites like Facebook follow this approach. When you use Facebook from mobile devices, you might have noticed the "m." in the url which indicates a mobile specific version of the page.
Which approach is followed by Techulator.com?
This website runs on a custom developed platform, which was originally developed more than a decade ago by myself. We are making changes to this platform almost everyday, however, the mobile friendliness was kind of ignored throughout the development cycle. The warning from Google scared us a bit and in past few weeks, we are working really hard to stay compliant. We follow a mix of the first two approaches - some responsive html elements are used to make part of our pages responsive and we dynamically deliver content and page elements to make our pages mobile friendly. As of now, most of our pages pass the mobile friendly test, but we still have a lot more pages to be fixed.
Does responsive design has any advantage over other methods?
As of now, Google doesn't give any weightage for any one method over the other. As long as your page passes the "mobile friendly" test, you are good to go.
If I change my template now to a mobile friendly template, will it have any other impact on the ranking?
It is better to prepare for the algorithm change and make your template mobile friendly. However, you should expect some other ranking impact for your website when you change the template that look significantly different from your previous template. For example, over a period of time, Google will "learn" how to extract certain data and how to ignore certain data like sidebars from your website based on your template. When you change your template, all these "learning" will become outdated and Google will need sometime to re-learn them. A simple example is the "sitelinks". When you change the template, the sitelinks may be affected, even though the sitelinks are generated based on many other factors including the traffic to certain pages. The bottom line is, changing template may negatively affect your traffic for a short period, but over a period of time, your site should be able to recover from it. I would strongly recommend you go for a mobile friendly template even if it has some negative impact for a short time.
Other than making my website mobile friendly, what else I need to do to improve my website's ranking?
Continue writing great content and have good sleep as you used to have before Google made that announcement!
How to get "mobile friendly" label for my blog in the mobile search?
A few weeks ago, Google introduced a special "mobile friendly" label in the search results for the pages that are actually mobile friendly. This would let the users choose to skip the pages that are not mobile friendly and click only on the pages that are suitable for mobile devices. This was more of an option for the users who use Google search on mobile devices. Every web page that are suitable for the mobile displays would automatically get this label using mobile devices for search. If you are using a mobile device to read this article, click on this link to see how many of our pages have this label.
If my page shows "mobile friendly" label in mobile search, is that enough to satisfy Google's mobile friendly requirement?
Yes, as of now, Google doesn't seem to care any more. As long as your page is labelled "Mobile friendly" in Google mobile search, that is good enough to stay safe beyond April 21.
How to check if my site is mobile friendly?
There are few ways to check the mobile compliance for your website.
1. Pick up your mobile device and search for "site:<your site name" in Google search. For example, for this site, I would search for "site:techulator.com". This will show all pages from the website. If all of the pages are labelled "Mobile friendly" in the search results, you are good to go.
2. Use "Mobile-Friendly Test" by Google - Go to this website and check your pages there. You can check page by page and see the result.
3. Use Mobile-usability feature in Google Webmaster Tools - This feature will give you an overall view of your website on the mobile usability. Try to fix all the errors reported by the tool. If you just added the site to the webmaster tools, it may take several days to see some data in the reports. Also, after you fix an issue, it may take several days to reflect the changes there. For a real time analysis, use the Mobile-friendly test mentioned above.
If my website is optimized for mobiles, will it see any increase in traffic after April 21?
The Google algorithm change is meant to favour the mobile optimized sites in the search results. If your site is optimized for mobiles and most other sites in your niche are not, you might see a significant increase in your website's traffic. However, if most of your competitors are already mobile optimized, you may not notice much difference in traffic.
Where can I read more about mobile-usability?
Read more resources here:
1. Mobile friendly websites - a complete guide.
2. Mobile usability & Google webmaster tools
3. Responsive web design basics
Read more blogging tips.
This article was an excellent eye-opener for website owners. I am sure a lot of them will be scrambling to fix their sites before 21st April!
I want a clarification. I used the mobile friendly test and my site passed. I checked with the mobility usability feature too and there were no issues reported. Yet, the mobile friendly label does not appear. Will this label show/not show only if checked via a mobile device? It cannot be seen via a laptop or desktop?