At this point, it may be considered old news, but there’s an update coming to the Google mobile algorithm with a tentative launch date of April 21st 2015. This update has been a long time coming, as users have increasingly resorted to their mobile devices to perform Google searches. In response, Google has put a clear emphasis on their mobile search results, you will even notice searches on your device to be labelled as “Mobile-Friendly”.
If your site renders well on a mobile device, the search results will contain a “Mobile-Friendly” label next to the search result. If you are already at this point, you are already in great shape for the upcoming update. But what happens for those sites that are not already labelled? What can you expect from this upcoming update?
How big is the update?
Remember Panda and Penguin? The next mobile update is said to be a very big, and in this post by Barry Swartz of Search Engine Land, Google is quoted saying it will have more of an impact than the Panda and Penguin updates, more specifically on mobile searches. It is difficult to tell whether or not this will have an impact on desktop searches, but it is fair to assume so you can prepare your mobile site to meet the appropriate search criteria.
Before you hit the panic button, perform an analysis of your own site, and its analytics. The first place to start is by checking your Google Analytics to see how many of your sessions are split between Desktop, Mobile and Tablet traffic. This does not mean it should be ignored considering the amount of mobile usage in this day and age, but it is standard to know what your current mobile traffic looks like. As you can see in the example below, Mobile and Tablet if you were to combine the % of sessions yield a significant amount of website traffic.
Related: Developing for Mobile First
Do you have a Mobile optimized website?
First thing you should do is visit the Mobile-Friendly Test on Google Webmaster Tools and test a few of your different pages. For this test, avoid only checking your home page to see if your website is mobile friendly. Google will render your site as if it were crawling for this test, so static blocks, links, and featured products, etc.x may appear to be quite close together and will therefore probably not pass. If you are an eCommerce website, run a test for all of your CMS pages, Category and Product Pages to identify which areas you need to address.
Another way to analyze your website is by using Google or Bing Webmaster Tools. In a post by Search Engine Land, they recommend a few other action items when making sure your website is mobile friendly such as utilizing Webmaster Tools features such as Crawl Errors.
Photo credit: Search Engine Land – March 6, 2015
Another suggested tool to use is the Mobile Usability Tool in Webmasters under the Search Traffic Reports. This will identify errors on mobile websites and more importantly identify what those particular errors are.
Drill down on each specific error to see which pages are being affected. Below is an example of what one of these error pages looks like on a granular level with the exception is the URL’s are being blocked.
I am going to re-emphasize that some of these errors will be addressed in the mobile friendly test. Many of the results will identify the key areas of improvements.
What to expect of April 21st?
Without a mobile responsive or “m.” site, it would be fair to assume that mobile rankings will suffer. This is a hard reality for eCommerce merchants to realize with only 2 weeks until the update, but bare in mind this has been a long time coming and you can still begin to work on mobilizing your site for future. Keep a eye on your segmented traffic by Desktop and Mobile to see if Desktop is affected because of the update (which Google has said this update is targeting mobile searches). Without a mobile site, you can still alter your strategy by focusing on mobile optimized campaigns in Google Adwords while you work to get your site up to mobile standard. Even with that option, the user has high expectations on how websites render on their devices, which is why Google is going ahead and making these changes. There are many resources out there with guidelines and information on the update. For more information with the exception of the a few links I shared in this post, I follow Moz Blog which is a great resource that has many contributors (See 9 things to know about update).