what does google’s latest algorithm update mean for businesses?

From Stepbrothers in Search to Best Buds

If you visit the Wikipedia page for April, 21st,you’ll find a list of births followed by a list of deaths. Now, barring the arrival or departure of any notable souls between now and then, “Google Search as We Know It” is one name that will (or should) exist on both of these lists. The Google Webmaster Central Blog announced it first, April 21st will be the day that Google’s algorithm changes to “Expand our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.”

mobile vs desktop 2015

Pretty soon, desktop and mobile search go from bitter step brothers, to best friends.

In short, this update will affect all mobile searches in all languages, and the impact will be significant.  Why? Because 2015 is the year of Mobile search. With industry experts across the web agreeing that 2015 could very likely be the first year mobile search surpasses desktop search, it’s a foregone conclusion that search should cater more to the device being used. However, the important thing to remember here is that Google is not putting desktop search on the back burner. As Search Engine Land pointed out last month, “[Google] wants to emphasize cross-platform marketing and experiences“.

So, on April 21st, we can expect a new search landscape to be born, where mobile isn’t desktop‘s clumsy step-brother who always gets in the way and plays the drums without asking, but a valuable piece of the search and marketing “family”. If you’re curious about what this change means, how it can affect you, and what you can do — read on! 

1. Will upcoming changes affect search and visibility?

Answer: Yes

But how? Mobile friendly websites will undoubtedly be served more often in search results when the search is done with a mobile device. Google gave us that information, however — how will Mobile-Friendliness impact visibility on a larger scale? Sources across the web (and directly from Google) insist that this update will not affect desktop search. At least not now. Then again, who is to say how the almighty Google will evolve from the 21st? The safest bet is to use this update as your cue to stop putting off your website and get with the times.

2. Will Google crawl sites differently?

Answer: Yes

As Google began to shed light on the upcoming mobile shake-up, it was made immediately clear that not only websites will be crawled differently, but “crawling” will change entirely. From websites to applications, it’s important to note here that the focus moving forward seems to be a more balanced version between desktop and mobile search. What this could mean is a new crawler focused on mobile that more effectively indexes single-page applications. This makes sense, since indexing this type of content for desktop searches wouldn’t necessarily make sense.   According to Search Engine Land, Google has said that this is an expansion of its mobile ranking demotion algorithm that was launched back in 2013. 

Example: Google uses crawling to provide the most relevant search result when searching for "flights".

Example: Google uses crawling to provide the most relevant search result when searching for “flights”.

3. How will Mobile Rankings Change

Answer: A lot. Nearly 50% of all web searches will be handled differently 

At Search Marketing Expo in  Munich, Google’s Zineb Ait Bahajji  announced that this algorithm update will have an even greater impact than Panda and Penguin. Considering so many searches are now mobile searches, this isn’t exactly surprising. While this change is expected to be most noticeable on android devices first, it will also hit iOS devices with full-force before long as Google services gain a foothold on Apple devices. Which is to say there’s no hiding from this one.

One of the most obvious changes will be the presence of mobile web applications in search results with personalized information for the specific user.  One example of this in action is the way emails can be used in mobile search engine results pages (SERP’s) by indexing deep links in gmail to offer users more opportunities to engage with the most relevant result.  With more functionality like this in the works, it will become increasingly important to make emails (like newsletters, order confirmations, etc) optimized for search. This can be done through Schema Markup (Expect a blog on this later, from Cameron).

4. Will sites that are not mobile friendly see a drop in Desktop search rankings?

Answer: No, but that’s not to say traffic won’t drop for sites that ignore mobile. 

On a panel at Search Marketing Expo in Munich, representatives from Google responded to this question with a resounding no. This points to one logical conclusion: that the new search index is largely focused exclusively on mobile search results.  This isn’t to say that you should rest on your laurels. There are a number of good reasons why every website should be at least somewhat mobile-friendly. For one: there’s no telling if there will some day be site-wide implications for mobile unfriendliness. Additionally, if a large number of users attempt to access your site with a mobile device and “bounce”away to greener pastures, bounce rate is still an important ranking factor that  Google may  penalize you for. Bottom line: if Google priorities mobile-friendly search results for mobile devices and your website is not mobile-friendly, expect to miss out on much of the existing mobile traffic you’re getting now.

5. How do I Know if My Site is ‘Mobile Friendly’

Answer: The tools are out there.

There are a number of tools you can use to determine your website’s “mobile-friendliness”. A good place to start here would be — surprise!– Google’s very own Mobile-Friendly Test. Just enter your URL and cross your fingers.  This tool will give you a definitive “YES” or “NO” answer on whether or not your website is mobile friendly on a URL by URL basis.  Another way to determine if your website is mobile friendly is to simply use your smartphone and visit it. If your user experience is unwieldy on mobile, you need to make some changes. On top of this, it is also recommended that you have a Google Webmaster Tools  account, where Google provides detailed information about your website and how it appears to users online. If you work with a company like 4Walls to take care of your website, this should already be taken care of.

6. What if my website isn’t responsive or mobile-friendly?

Answer:  Get it fixed. 

Google estimates that more than 50% of search traffic in 2015 will be from a mobile device. On top of that, the coming updates will affect all mobile search. This will essentially create an entirely new algorithm for mobile search traffic.  While this change doesn’t affect desktop search rankings, having a website that isn’t mobile-friendly puts all of your mobile traffic at risk. 

Between 2013 and 2014, Mobile Traffic Increased nearly 75%

Between 2013 and 2014, Mobile Traffic Increased nearly 75%

For Example: Many businesses in the b2b sector care the most about desktop traffic because their customers are typically doing research during business hours. This creates the sort of relationship I’ve mentioned above, where the mobile experience becomes the vastly inferior step brother to the desktop experience. If this sounds like your business, think again. Take a look at the Google Analytics data to the left from a prominent industrial company and keep a couple things in mind:

  • Mobile Traffic is Growing
  • The latest algorithm update will affect all mobile traffic
  • Websites that are not mobile friendly will miss out on mobile traffic

7. How will keywords and queries work with mobile search?

Answer: As was the case with hummingbird and subsequent changes focused on “conversational search”, the spotlight has been shifted to the entire query to try and understand the actual reason a user is searching. The system is designed to provide more relevant results by anticipating the user’s intention. In many cases, this manifests in the form of Google presenting a great deal of information directly above organic search results. This can divert traffic away from websites and towards other locations. While it doesn’t pose much of a problem, it could cause a slight drop in traffic. If, for example, you have a web app or visitors use your Google Local Business page, your web traffic may seem lower. In reality, users are simply being served the most relevant experience for their particular device.

8. Why? What’s the point of all these changes?

“Relevancy” has become a battlecry for Google. With that concept in mind, we think these changes are more of the same. However, it’s not just a matter of relevancy in terms of the search query or keyword, it’s about relevancy in terms of the user’s experience. The best websites are the ones that get used. That takes a combination of good content and the experience that helps deliver it. Every website is a content delivery system. Rewarding websites for being mobile-friendly helps Google serve more users with the content and the experience they’re looking for.

Think about it, if you’re looking for a tire store on your desktop, you’re probably doing research. If you’re looking for a tire store on your smartphone — there’s a better chance that you’re on the side of the road and you need some help. With that in mind, Google’s goal is to provide the most relevant answer in the most useful form — whether that’s an “answer” above organic search results, a webapp, a map listing, or an organic search listing. Of course, they’re also out to make money. By providing more reasons to serve mobile users with app suggestions and further integration into Google services, Google stands to gain a lot. Even still, if the goal is to do that by making the search experience better for users — it could be a win-win.

Bottom Line

Offer the experience your users need, wherever they may be. Mobile traffic is on the rise every year. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, are you comfortable missing out on the growing percentage of users who could be finding you?

4Walls Media Group is an Industrial Traffic Company | copyright 2017 |