Is your site ready for Google’s big mobile rankings change on April 21st?

From 21st April, if your site is not mobile-friendly then you could see a huge drop in your rankings on mobile search.

At the end of February, Google announced that it will soon be changing its ranking algorithm to take into account how usable websites are on mobile devices. For people searching Google using a mobile device, Google is now much more likely to show them mobile-friendly websites than those which have not yet been optimised for mobile.

So if your website doesn’t use a responsive design, or you don’t have a separate mobile website, then your company may not be as visible on Google after 21st April. If you rely on mobile traffic, you may see a severe impact on your visitor numbers, and potentially lose out on new customers.

Why is Google doing this?

Google wants to give users a high quality experience, no matter what device they use, so that they will keep on using its search engine. Today, more and more people are accessing the web from their phones, using a variety of different screen sizes, so Google doesn’t want to give them a poor quality experience by sending them to websites that are hard to use.

Websites that aren’t optimised for mobile offer mobile users a poor quality experience – the fonts are usually too small to read without zooming, links are too small to click on, and some content (such as Flash) simply isn’t compatible with mobiles. As such, Google no longer wants to give these websites prominence, and wants to encourage companies to redevelop their websites to make them mobile-friendly.

How much of an impact will this have?

Google makes minor changes to its ‘ranking algorithm’ (the factors it uses to decide which websites to display for a particular search term) on a regular basis, often without much notice. Most of its larger changes are designed to stop spammy or low-quality websites from appearing, so high quality websites tend not to be affected. However, this is a much bigger change, which could affect even the largest of companies, which is why Google has given advanced warning that it is happening.

Google has already said that this change will have a ‘significant impact’ on their search results, meaning they are serious about this. As of yet, nobody knows just how much weight Google will give to mobile-friendly websites – it’s unlikely that they will remove non-mobile-friendly websites from their mobile search results entirely, but it’s likely they’ll receive a significant drop.

Within the past couple of days, Zineb Ait Bahajji, from the company’s Webmaster Trends team, has announced that the change will have a greater impact than the ‘Panda’ and ‘Penguin’ updates, which greatly affected sites across the world and saw many experience major ranking drops.

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.
Google Webmaster Central Blog

Will I be impacted?

This change only affects searches carried out on mobile devices. However, as up to 50% of all searches are now carried out on mobile devices, this will have a serious impact on many websites. If your website isn’t optimised for mobile devices – either with a separate mobile website, or with a responsive design (where your website’s design ‘shrinks’ and re-arranges itself to fit the size of the user’s screen) – then you may be in serious trouble come mid-April.

If you’ve signed up to Google Webmaster Tools, you will start getting warnings if your website is not considered mobile-friendly by Google. Alternatively, you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to see if Google considers your site to be mobile-friendly.

If you rank at #1 for ‘flower delivery Cardiff’, then you’ll probably still rank at #1 after April 21st if someone searches for that term on their desktop computer, and probably on their tablet as well. But if someone searches on their mobile phone, you may no longer rank as highly. So if you rely on mobile traffic, or it makes up a significant amount of your traffic, it’s time to act.

How much mobile traffic do I have?

If you receive a significant proportion of your traffic from mobile sources, then you risk losing a chunk of this traffic after the algorithm changes. You can find out how much traffic you receive from mobile search using Google Analytics, if you have this set up on your site.

Go to your Dashboard, then go to Audience > Mobile > Overview from the left-hand menu (or click here to go straight there). You’ll see the number of ‘Sessions’ (essentially, visits) you receive from mobile, desktop and tablet. If the mobile number is high, you may lose much of this traffic come April 21st.

Click on the pie chart to see a percentage breakdown of your channels.

How much traffic do you receive from mobile devices?

As you can see, this site (a real example from the entertainment niche) receives 47.4% of its traffic from mobile devices – over 80,000 visits in the past month. Now, imagine a significant proportion of that traffic comes from Google. Come April 21st, a significant chunk could disappear.

You can drill down further and see exactly how much mobile search traffic you receive. Go back to Analytics, navigate to Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium (or click here) and click on ‘google / organic’ (which may well be your top traffic source). This will show you all of your Google search traffic. To see how much of this is through mobiles, click on ‘Secondary dimension’, and type in then select ‘Device Category’.

Click the pie chart icon (a few buttons right of the ‘Secondary dimension’ box) to see the percentage split.

How much mobile search traffic do you get?

Now you can see a breakdown of what devices your Google traffic is coming from. As the image above shows, for this high traffic site in the entertainment niche, this is 48.7%, pretty much mirroring the device split above. As this site isn’t currently optimised for mobile, this traffic could potentially vanish overnight.

So what can I do?

You’ve still got a month to make changes to your website to ensure you’re not affected. You either need a separate mobile website, or need to redevelop your website to use a responsive design.

A ‘responsive design’ is a website design that automatically adjusts to fit the size of your user’s screen. The content shifts to ensure it is always easily readable, and button and link sizes adjust to ensure they can be easily clicked on by mobile users.

A responsive design gets rid of the need for a completely separate mobile website, meaning you can update your website’s content in one place and it will automatically adjust across mobiles, tablets and desktops.

You should seriously consider a website redesign before the changes comes into place on April 21st. If you’d like to speak to me about what to do next, please feel free to get in touch.