Google's new mobile algorithm

Responsive design Google's algorithm update

Update: On 17 March 2016 Google announced:

"Today we’re announcing that beginning in May, we’ll start rolling out an update to mobile search results that increases the effect of the ranking signal to help our users find even more pages that are relevant and mobile-friendly."

This suggests that from May 2016 responsive sites will see an extra boost in the search results and that there may be other mobile updates further into the future.

Is it really Mobilegeddon?

The impact of Google algorithms

The internet marketing world has always had to take notice of any new Google algorithms, such as Panda and Penguin, because of the way they impact on the performance of websites in searches.  Quite rightly, this has led in the past to better quality SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), where creating meaningful, interesting content is now essential and the more dubious SEO practices have largely disappeared.  Similarly, having a website that is generally poor, but crammed with keywords, no longer pushes that company to a first (or second or third or tenth) page appearance on a Google search. It takes an attractive website design, easy navigation around the site and carefully analysed, sound SEO with well-written, unique articles and interesting material such as eye-catching Infographics to achieve those sought after high rankings.

With the modern emphasis on internet marketing, rather than alternatives such as advertising in magazines, many companies are almost wholly dependent on positive results from online searches for the success or otherwise of their business.  This is why there has been such a huge build up and apprehension prior to the launch of Google’s latest algorithm, being implemented over the course of a week, starting on 21st April 2015, which assesses how mobile friendly a website is, with the ultimate accolade of having a “mobile friendly” tag attached to those sites deemed worthy.  Their overall ranking (at least from mobile visitors) will also be affected if they are not considered to be sufficiently responsive to mobile use. The term “Mobilegeddon” was coined a few weeks prior to the algorithm’s roll-out and this has been used extensively in newspaper articles on the subject, however it seems that the algorithms impact on search engine performance was less than expected.

What is meant by “Mobile Friendly”?

There has been a huge growth in the use of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets for internet searches.  With technological advances meaning that the internet can be accessed on the move, on trains or buses or even when walking to work, it has become vital for websites to adjust to the size of screen on which they are being viewed.  Our article on responsive website design for mobiles and tablets has more information about what can be done in this area.

The type of products and services for which people search can be anything from train times, booking a taxi, checking on the menu at a local restaurant, to trying to find a new flat to rent, house to buy or exotic holiday destination - indeed anything that people might look for on a standard device.  The convenience of being able to see the information displayed, in an easily readable and navigable form, is the essence of a website being assessed as “mobile friendly”.  With the growing tendency to use smartphones for internet searches, seeing the tag “mobile friendly” in one site shown in a search, when others do not have that tag, means that a mobile user is more likely to go to that site for information.

Google introduced a free mobile friendly testing tool which indicates how a website measures up to Google’s criteria.  Whilst this is extremely useful, there are other, similar, free tools available and it is important to test your site against more than one such tool, to have an objective assessment of what you have to do.

Mobile usage statistics

  • Of over four and half billion mobile phone owners globally, approaching two billion have smartphones, with the capability of carrying out internet searches.
  • In the last quarter of 2014, over 150 million people used mobile devices (smartphone or tablet) for online searches.
  • In the UK, around 40% of online purchases were completed on mobile devices.
  • There has been a jump in purchases made using smartphones or tablets to between 40 – 50% of all online sales for many of the largest online companies, such as Amazon, e-Bay and Ticketmaster.

The latest update - core facts

  • You either pass or fail, there is no 'slightly mobile friendly' according to Google.
  • Is applied on a page by page base, not across a whole domain.
  • Works by applying a penalty to pages that aren't mobile friendly (i.e. those pages go further down in the search results, whereas mobile friendly pages go up).
  • Impacts searches from mobiles only (so visitors using tablets, PCs or Macs will be unaffected by the latest algorithm update).

Whilst actual figures are constantly changing, there has also been a significant increase in the number of companies who have adapted their websites to be mobile friendly, since the announcement that Google would be introducing this new algorithm.  Confirmation – if it were needed – of the power and influence that Google has over internet marketing!

How much impact does it have?

There have been some big winners and losers as a result of the latest algorithm, here are the changes in percentage terms for large websites according to Searchmetrics:

% Losses for non-mobile friendly sites


% Gains for mobile friendly sites


How much will it impact me?

Having analysed the impact of Google's latest algorithm update across a range of sites, apart from a few sites with major changes, the overall impact is smaller than expected and you can expect to see:

  • Around a 3-6% improvement in traffic if your site is mobile friendly.
  • Around a 5-12% loss in traffic if your site isn't mobile friendly.

This is in terms of visits to your site as a whole (not just from mobile visitors), meaning that the total difference from having a mobile friendly site is around 8% - 18%.

The gain your traffic will receive as a result of being mobile friendly (or loss if it isn't) all depends on what your competitors are doing.  If all your competitors have already taken the plunge and made their sites responsive, then you'll only see a small gain if your site is mobile friendly, but a larger loss if it isn't.  On the other hand, if you're the only one creating a responsive site, then you'll see a larger gain in traffic as a result of it.

It's worth remembering that an improved SEO is only a small part of the picture.  Having a responsive website design means visitors on mobiles, tablets, standard monitors and large monitors will all see a website which is tailored just to them and the increase in leads or sales from a responsive website will therefore be larger than is reflected just in the improved SEO.