April 21, 2015 is Mobilegeddon - the day Google rolls out its mobile algorithm update, expanding their use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.

Google mobile search updates timeliine

 

Website owners have spent much of the last several years living in fear of Google’s algorithm updates. They’ve most often been released with little to no warning, and their results can be devastating.

The retail industry provides a few powerful examples. In the wake of the first Google Panda algorithm update in 2011, pioneering furniture e-retailer OneWayFurniture.com, lost ⅔ of its traffic. And eBay lost 80% of its organic search rankings, as a result of Panda 4.0 in 2014.

Another standout example of the impact of Panda in 2014 is the e-commerce coupon company RetailMeNot. Its search traffic was cut in half, overnight by Google Panda, decimating their revenue and leading to a 20% plunge in their stock price.

Will the April 21st mobile algorithm update have similarly devastating results? Google itself noted the update “will have a significant impact.”

And Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google, Zineb Ait Bahajji, was recently quoted as stating that the April 21st update “will have more of an impact on Google’s search results than the Google Panda update and the Google Penguin update did.”

While the full extent of the impact of mobilegeddon remains to be seen, there’s no question it’s important to be prepared.

What’s also important to keep in mind, however, is that if you simply focus on getting your site up to par for the current mobile-friendly criteria, you are missing the bigger picture.

The April 21st update is neither the first time Google has made a move to highlight mobile’s importance, nor will it be the last.

Let’s take a look at the changes Google has made to its mobile search over the years.

Smartphone Icon Experiments

In August of 2012, smartphone icons were spotted in some Google mobile search results. A Google spokesperson confirmed that they were in fact, “experimenting with ways to optimize the mobile search experience, including helping users identify smartphone-optimized sites.”

Smartphone Search Results Rankings Changes

In June of 2013, Google announced that sites with mobile experience issues would essentially be demoted in rankings. Their announcement, which began with an acknowledgement of the growth of mobile as a “significant and fast growing segment” of web users, was aimed at improving the search experience specifically for smartphone users.

In their own words, “To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.”

Experiments with Non-Mobile-Friendly Icons

In mid-October of 2014, non-mobile-friendly icons were seen in Google’s mobile search results. There was no accompanying statement, so it can only be assumed Google was experimenting again. Nonetheless, the testing was expansive enough to have been noted by people not just in the U.S. but also in the UK.

Mobile Usability Feature in WebMaster Tools

In late October 2014, Google expanded their Webmaster Tools to include a Mobile Usability feature. This feature alerts site owners to any mobile usability issues Google identifies across their site. Examples of such issues include tiny fonts, flash content, too-close links or buttons, and various viewport issues.

Mobile-Friendly Label Officially Added

Google’s mobile-friendly label in search results was officially announced in November of 2014. At the time, Google also proclaimed that they were “experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal,” putting many a site owner on their toes.

Mass Notifications to Non-Mobile-Friendly Sites

In January of 2015, Google began sending out mass warnings to non-mobile-friendly sites. Whereas previously Google had only notified sites that were mobile-friendly about mobile usability issues, this was the first time they sent notifications on a mass scale to sites that were not mobile-friendly.

These notifications, sent both via email and Google Webmaster Tools, included a clear warning about pages with critical mobile usability issues: “These pages...will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.”

Expansion of Mobile-Friendliness as Ranking Factor

After the mass notifications in January 2015, and the November 2014 confirmation of their experimentation with mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal, it was no huge surprise when Google announced the expansion of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.

Given the typically stealth nature of Google algorithm updates, however, this announcement in February 2015 made site owners around the world sit up and take notice.

Beyond Mobilegeddon

Currently we’re all focused on April 21st. And it is definitely important to be prepared, ensuring the pages on your site are mobile-friendly. However, it is equally important to realize that the latest mobile algorithm update will not be the last.

And whether you’re optimizing your mobile experiences for your customers’ mobile moments or ensuring your pages have the best mobile SEO, it is imperative that you continuously optimize your mobile experiences to stay ahead of the curve.

 

by Anis Salvesen