Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land broke the news.
On April 21, 2015, Google released a significant new mobile-friendly ranking algorithm that’s designed to give a boost to mobile-friendly pages in Google’s mobile search results.
The change is so significant that the date it happened is being referred to by a variety of names including; mobilegeddon, mobilepocalyse, mopocalypse or mobocalypse.
UPDATE: November 4, 2016
Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land broke the news
Google begins mobile-first indexing, using mobile content for all search rankings
While called an ‘experiment,’ it’s actually the first move in Google’s planned shift to looking primarily at mobile content, rather than desktop, when deciding how to rank results.
This means Google will primarily look at the mobile version of your website for its ranking signals and fall back on the desktop version when there is no mobile version; regardless of whether you’re on desktop or mobile. There will no longer be any type of “mobile-friendly” adjustment done just for mobile users. Effectively, if you’re not mobile-friendly, that will have an impact even on how you appear for desktop searchers.
Most of Google searches are mobile, but Google’s index is desktop
Google explained that it sees more mobile searches than desktop searches on a daily basis. But when Google looks to evaluate a page’s ranking in Google, it currently looks at the desktop version of the site — an issue we pointed out over a year ago. To fix this, Google will look at the content, links and structured data of the mobile version of your site if one is available.
To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.
Why is Google making this change?
The point of Google’s mobile update on April 21st is to ensure mobile searchers find mobile-friendly results in search. They do not want people on mobile devices being directed to sites that perform sub-optimally.
If you search for something on your phone, Google wants to be sure the result you click on is mobile-friendly. That it doesn’t create a bad user experience. Google no longer wants to return desktop only results for mobile searchers.
UPDATE: Nov 9, 2016
Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land broke the news.
FAQ: All about the Google mobile-first index
Wondering how this will all work?
Here’s everything we know about the Google mobile-first index.
What is changing with the mobile-first index?
As more and more searches happen on mobile, Google wants its index and results to represent the majority of their users — who are mobile searchers.
Google has started to use the mobile version of the web as their primary search engine index. A search engine index is a collection of pages/documents that the search engine has discovered, primarily through crawling the web through links. Google has crawled the web from a desktop browser point of view, and now Google is changing that to crawl the web from a mobile browser view.
How can you prepare for Mobilegeddon?
Here are some recommendations Google is giving webmasters to prepare for the change:
- Check to make sure your website is mobile friendly with Google’s Mobile Friendly Testing tool and/or check your mobile usability report in the Google Search Console.
- Check to see how much organic traffic you’re currently receiving from mobile devices in organic search using Google Analytics.
- Consider adding AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) to your site.
- If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.
- If you have a site configuration where the primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes to your site.
- Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version. Sites can verify the equivalence of their structured markup across desktop and mobile by typing the URLs of both versions into the Structured Data Testing Tool and comparing the output.
- When adding structured data to a mobile site, avoid adding large amounts of markup that isn’t relevant to the specific information content of each document.
- Use the robots.txt testing tool to verify that your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot.
- Sites do not have to make changes to their canonical links; we’ll continue to use these links as guides to serve the appropriate results to a user searching on desktop or mobile.
- If you are a site owner who has only verified your desktop site in Search Console, please add and verify your mobile version.
What if I don’t have a mobile website?
Google said not to worry. Although Google wants you to have a mobile site, it will crawl your desktop version instead. Google said, “If you only have a desktop site, we’ll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we’re using a mobile user agent to view your site.”
This also means that if you have a responsive site, one that dynamically changes content depending on desktop or mobile device, there’s nothing special you need to do.
Of course, if you do not have a mobile site, you won’t benefit from the mobile-friendly ranking boost.
If you DO have a mobile site, then you need to make sure the content and links on the mobile site are similar enough to the desktop version so that Google can consume the proper content and rank your site as well as it did by crawling your desktop site.
My mobile site has less content than my desktop site. Should I be nervous?
Potentially, yes. Google has said that it will look at the mobile version of your site. If that has less content on page A than the desktop version of page A, then Google will probably just see the mobile version with less content.
This is why Google recommends you go with a responsive approach — the content is the same on a page-by-page basis from your desktop to your mobile site. You can do the same with other mobile implementations, but there is more room for error.
What about expandable content on mobile?
With desktop sites, Google said that content hidden in tabs, accordions, expandable boxes and other methods would not be weighted as high. But when it comes to mobile, Google’s Gary Illyes said content like this will be given full weight if done for user experience purposes. The idea is that expandable content makes sense on mobile and not so much on desktop.
Will this change the Google rankings in a big way?
Both Gary Illyes and Paul Haahr from Google said this should not change the overall rankings. In fact, they want there to be minimal change in rankings around this change. Of course, it is too early to tell, they said — but their goal is not to have this indexing change impact the current rankings too much.
When will this fully roll out?
Google said they have already begun testing this mobile-first index to some users. But it looks like we are still months away from this fully rolling out. Google won’t give us a date because they are still testing the rollout, and if things go well, they may push it sooner. If things do not go well, they may push it back.
Google did say they will push this out to more and more searchers over time as they become more confident with the mobile-first index.
Is this a mobile-friendly ranking boost?
Google has previously said that content that’s not deemed mobile-friendly will not rank as well. That remains the case with this new index.
In the current index, which most people will continue to get results from, desktop content is indexed and used for showing listings to both desktop and mobile users. A special mobile-friendly ranking system is then used to boost content for Google’s mobile listings. Content that’s not mobile-friendly doesn’t perform as well.
In the new mobile-first index, which some people will get results from as Google rolls it out, mobile content is indexed and used for showing listings to both desktop and mobile users. Then the mobile-friendly ranking boost is applied, as with the current system, to mobile-friendly pages.
How can I tell if Google sees my mobile pages?
The best way is to use the Fetch and Render tool in the Google Search Console. Specify the mobile: smartphone user-agent and look at the preview after the fetch and render is complete. What Google shows you in the rendered results is likely what Google can see and index from your mobile site. If content is missing, then you should look into how to fix that and run the tool again.
Ranking signals will come from your mobile, not desktop version
Google has ranked your mobile site based on many signals from your desktop site, as we covered before. That is going to flip, and Google will rank your mobile and desktop sites based on signals they get from crawling your site from a mobile view.
So the page speed of your mobile site will determine the rankings of your mobile site and desktop site in Google. Google will also likely look at your title, H1s, structured data and other tags and content generated from your mobile site, and use them over your desktop site.
Doesn’t this just flip the issue the other way to where Google is ranking its desktop results based on how it sees your mobile site? Yes, but Google knows that, and the trend is that mobile keeps growing and more and more searchers will use mobile over desktop to search.
Will Google have different indexes for mobile and desktop?
Eventually, Google plans to have only one index, one which is based on mobile content, to serve listings for both mobile and desktop users. During this rollout period, there will be two: desktop-first and mobile-first. A smaller group of users will get results out of the mobile-first index. It’s not something that anyone will be able to control. People will likely have no idea which index they’re actually using.
As Google grows confidence in the mobile-first index, eventually that will be the only index used. Or if the new index isn’t deemed useful, Google could go back to a desktop-first index. It has, after all, called the mobile-first index an “experiment.”
Google said in their blog post, “Our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site.”
Paul Haahr from Google reiterated it by saying, “Index of mobile pages for mobile users and index of desktop pages for desktop users won’t happen.”
Will links and rankings change because of this?
There is a concern that mobile content tends to have fewer links than desktop content. This is a concern that is similar to the concern listed above around mobile content having less content than desktop content. Google’s search results are very dependent on links and content. So if both links and content are impacted, will the rankings be impacted?
Google said they are still testing, so it isn’t 100 percent clear. Gary Illyes said, “I don’t want to say anything definite about links yet. It’s too early for that cos things are very much in motion.”
Canonicals: Will you need to change them?
Google said the canonicals will not need to be changed, just keep your canonical tags as is, and follow their recommendations as listed on their blog post.
Can I see the change and the impact in the search results now?
Google said you shouldn’t be able to see the change and impact of the mobile-first index rollout now. In fact, Google said it hopes there is little to no impact after it is fully rolled out. Paul Haahr said, “I would be very surprised to detect any effects of mobile-first indexing at this stage.”
Technically, this is a global rollout, so it won’t be hitting specific regions only.
UPDATE: June 2, 2016
Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land broke the news.
Google launches business-friendly tool that tests your website mobile-friendliness & page speed
Google’s new user-friendly tool should make it easier for small businesses to see how their sites rank in terms of being mobile-friendly and fast.
Google announced on the Google Small Business blog that they have released a new landing page to test your website’s mobile-friendliness and page speed for desktop and mobile all in one place. This tool should make it easier for small businesses to test their sites, as opposed to going to the specific mobile-friendly testing tool and/or page speed testing tool.
The new tool, available over here, will test this all at the same time. The unique aspects of this tool are:
- Get all three scores on one page.
- Google will email you a more comprehensive report for you to share with your webmaster team.
- Google will now give you a 0 out of a 100 score for how mobile-friendly your website is, as opposed to if it is mobile-friendly or not.
Here is what the scores say:
- Mobile-friendliness: This is the quality of the experience customers have when they’re browsing your site on their phones. To be mobile-friendly, your site should have tappable buttons, be easy to navigate from a small screen and have the most important information up front and center.
- Mobile speed: This is how long it takes your site to load on mobile devices. If customers are kept waiting for too long, they’ll move on to the next site.
- Desktop speed: This is how long it takes your site to load on desktop computers. It’s not just the strength of your customers’ web connection that determines speed, but also the elements of your website.
Here is a screen shot of the report for this site:
You can see it is a pretty overview, much nicer than the more webmaster/developer-focused options Google has given us in the past. As you scroll down, you get more details on how to make your site more mobile-friendly or faster on desktop or mobile browsers.
Here is a screen shot of the report Google emailed me later:
Give your site a test at testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com.
UPDATE: August 21, 2016
Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land broke the news.
How To Recover If You Got Nailed By Mobilegeddon
Columnist Neil Patel shares his tips and advice for analyzing the impact of Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update — and getting your mobile presence on the right track.
Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update is old news. For some websites — those that are enjoying 100% total mobile optimization — the algorithm update is a distant memory of a past event.
But for some websites, the effects remain — and the damage is very real.
The mobile-friendly algorithm update caused a sweeping change on the digital marketing landscape. Suddenly, websites with mobile traffic but no mobile strategy were suffering the consequences.
If you’re still dealing with the aftershock of the mobile-friendly algorithm, this article is for you.
Why should you not panic? In general, panic is a bad idea. In the case of the mobile-friendly update, there are actually several steps you can take to address the problem.
If You’re A Small Business, You Can Make Changes More Quickly And Easily
As Mobilegeddon approached, small businesses feared that they would be the hardest hit by the algorithm update. According to CNBC, only 20 percent of small businesses had a mobile-friendly website or app.
A business’s “smallness” is actually a strategic advantage in this case. Small websites generally have fewer Web pages, making it easier to update the entire site. Plus, small websites are less likely to break under the strain of a site-wide responsive design update. Any site design update that does take place should be relatively easy to fix, considering the scope of the problem.
The real advantage, however, lies in a small business’s agility and decision-making. It’s easier for a small business CEO to say, “Hey, we need to update our website!” than it is for a Fortune 500 business to make the same change.
Lucasz Zelezny, the head of SEO for uSwitch.com explained it this way:
Small businesses tend to be far more flexible with their tech teams able to apply changes far quicker and easier than larger enterprises due to a less complicated infrastructure, also making it easier to roll out new software and processes.
If you’re a smallish business, don’t let your small size keep you from making a big change.
WordPress, the world’s most popular CMS, makes it easy to make a website mobile-friendly. There are dozens of plugins that offer mobile themes for mobile visitors. So if you’re on WordPress, it may be able to address your mobile friendliness issue through a theme change. You may risk some UX damage; however, it may be worth it to become mobile-friendly.
Changing your WordPress theme isn’t something you should do on a whim. A simple theme change will alter every portion of your website, past, present and future. In some cases, it can completely ruin your formatting and other custom features of the site.
But which is worse, to continue experiencing the consequences of a non-mobile-optimized website or to get mobile optimized and deal with some UX uglies?
You can take your time fixing the design issues, but you’re out of time to make your website mobile-friendly. If 50 percent or more of your traffic was coming from mobile devices, then you may be best served by making a responsive theme switch and letting the chips fall where they may.
As you head into repair mode, it helps to know exactly what’s going on with your traffic and website. Here’s how to gather your data.
Look At Your Overall Traffic
The quickest way to check the impact of the mobile-friendly algorithm is to peek at Google Analytics. If your traffic took a nosedive around April 21, 2015, then you got nailed.
In the screenshot below, I isolated traffic from March 21 through May 21 to provide a three-month traffic overview of the site. The site experienced no decline during the week of April 21, suggesting that this website is safe from the ravages of the mobile update.
An easy way to identify traffic changes resulting from algorithm updates is to use the Panguin Tool by Barracuda Digital.
By logging in with your Google credentials, you can view a year of traffic data, with a timeline view of all the Google algorithm updates.
Compare Mobile Traffic And Desktop Traffic
Another helpful metric to keep in mind is your percentage of mobile users. You can view this data in Google Analytics by navigating to Mobile → Overview. The chart should give you a percentage breakdown of how many users are coming from desktop, mobile and tablet.
In the case of the website below, only 10% of the site’s visitors are accessing it from mobile devices.
Note: Per Google, the mobile-friendly update did not affect tablet users/traffic.
Analyze Individual Pages
Make sure that you’re not just looking at site-wide data. Overall traffic metrics and percentages will not provide an accurate view of the mobile update’s impact.
Why not? Because the mobile-friendly update affected individual pages in the SERPs, not websites as a whole. This is different from typical algorithm updates, in which an entire website might lose search engine visibility. In the case of the mobile-friendly update, only specific pages not optimized for mobile were affected.
Here’s how it works, thanks to some handy analysis by Econsultancy’s Graham Charlton.
Using the Google Mobile-Friendly Test, Barclay’s home page received a passing score.
However, an under-the-hood analysis of internal pages revealed problems:
What kind of problems? The kind that lead to major ranking drops, it appears.
Prior to April 21, the internal page analyzed above had a cruising altitude near the top of the SERPs. After the update, the page tanked.
(Note: Charlton is using PI-Datametrics for his data.)
That’s why analyzing individual pages is critical. So how do you analyze individual pages?
Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool is a great way to analyze pages one by one. The best way to look at individual pages throughout your entire site, however, is through the Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools).
Log in to the Search Console and click on Search Traffic → Mobile Usability. Here, you’ll get an idea of the true extent of the problem, page by page.
Don’t be content to simply see the number of pages with errors. Identify exactly which pages have errors. It could be that it is affecting only product pages, your blog, a content silo or some other type of page.
In the case of the website above, I drilled down into the pages with touch elements too close and found that the entire blog was dysfunctional for mobile devices.
Look at this information carefully so you can make sure that you’re fixing the right problem.
Once you have the data, you can understand what it is you need to fix and where you need to fix it.
What happens next is carrying out the relevant repairs. The exact repairs will vary. For example, if only a few of your pages have mobile usability problems, it could mean that just a few simple tweaks in the CMS are in order.
If, on the other hand, you have a near site-wide problem, you may need to do something drastic, like redesign your entire website.
Site redesigns come with a unique set of pitfalls, so be cautious as you approach this task.
Unlike Penguin or Panda penalties, the Mobile-Friendly update is the simplest one for recovery purposes.
Google tells you exactly which pages were affected, why they were affected, and what to do. As to the actual repair, you’re going to have to tame that beast yourself. With a competent developer as an ally, the job shouldn’t be too overwhelming.
In conclusion, keep a close eye on your traffic after you’ve made the right changes. A website is a living and dynamic entity. You’ll constantly need to analyze, identify, adjust and respond to a variety of digital forces.
UPDATE: August 31, 2016
Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land broke the news.
Google’s mobile-friendly label has now been removed from the search results
Google officially says goodbye to their mobile-friendly label this morning. The mobile-friendly label no longer shows up in the search results.
This morning, Google has removed the mobile-friendly label from their mobile search results. We knew it was coming; Google announced last week they were dropping the label, but it took some time for the label to go away.
The removal of the mobile-friendly label in no way means that the mobile-friendly ranking signal is not being used — It is still being used. Google removed the label because they wanted to declutter the mobile search results and because “85% of all pages in the mobile search results” now are mobile-friendly by Google’s criteria.
Here is a screen shot of the mobile-friendly label no longer showing up as of this morning:
Here is what it looked like last week with the mobile-friendly label:
The RankRanger tool shows a significant and almost complete drop in the mobile-friendly label from showing in the search results, which means it seems Google has mostly rolled out this change.