Posted on Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 No Comments
Google’s next huge algorithm update is scheduled for April 21, 2015. Google’s Zineb Ait Bahajji said that this upcoming update will impact more sites than their Panda or Penguin algorithms. Those caused big disasters for many websites. This has the potential to be much worse because the Panda and Penguin updates targeted specific SEO behaviors that Google didn’t like, but this update could affect every website.
If the amount of traffic your website gets from Google is a concern of yours, you should be seeing red flashing warning lights in your head right now.
This update is all about how well a website displays on mobile devices. Like all of Google’s updates, they’re trying to improve user experience. Because more and more people are browsing the web from their tablets and smartphones, Google wants to make sure users get the best search results on those devices.
Their announcement from February said:
Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. 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.
This means that once April 21st hits, if your website doesn’t display well on mobile screens it will rank lower in mobile search results.
The folks over at SEOBook have a detailed post about this, and I recommend you read that. Here in this post I’m just going to tell you what I feel is most important for you to know and the steps I recommend that you take now.
Your first question might be whether or not this update will really affect your website. There are two things I want to point out:
1. How much do you rely on traffic that originates from mobile devices?
Take a look at your website analytics to find out how much of your current traffic is coming from mobile devices. Here’s a screenshot from Google Analytics that shows you what to look for:
In this example, traffic from mobile and tablets makes up about 11%. Do a little math on that: what if overnight you lost 11% of your sales? What if this number was 50% and overnight you lost 50% of your sales?
Whether or not mobile traffic is particularly important to you will depend on the type of business and type of website you have. For example, let’s say you’re a bar/restaurant located in a downtown area. There might be a lot of people who, while out and about, use their phone to look up nearby bars. Would it be a disaster if your website disappeared from those search results? (Obviously this algorithm update is going to affect much more than local restaurants — that’s just one example.)
2. Is your website mobile-friendly right now?
If your website is already responsive, then you don’t need to be freaking out right now. However, you should still be aware of this update and continue to make responsiveness a high priority.
1. Use the “Am I Responsive” tool to test your website
Am I Responsive is a great little tool that I use all the time. Just type in your URL and it shows you what your website looks like across a variety of screen sizes.
2. Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly test
Of course you should also go straight to the source and run your website through Google’s Mobile-Friendly test.
Do you get any warnings? Don’t ignore them.
Here’s what I get for zenwebconsultant.com:
3. Use Google Webmaster Tools
If you haven’t already, get your website set up in Google Webmaster Tools. They’re already sending out warnings for websites that they’ve detected have problems on mobile screens. (And besides that, it’s a very important resource to monitor and use.)
I got a warning for my Easy Icon Logos website. I didn’t do all that much mobile-optimization for that site since it was really intended to be used on larger screens. Here’s what that warning looks like:
As pointed out at Quicksprout, it might already be too late to avoid this. The update is due to be implemented on April 21st, but that doesn’t mean you can wait until then to make changes to your website. Google periodically crawls websites and it won’t see your changes until that happens. They’ve gotten a lot faster about that, and it could happen within a few days, but sometimes it takes weeks.
And again, the level of urgency is largely dependent on how important this is to you.
This depends a lot on how your website is currently structured and the software that runs behind the scenes.
If your website is on WordPress or a similar CMS (content management system) it’s a relatively easy fix, but will still require a lot of work. The solution is to update to a responsive theme. This is easy in the sense that it doesn’t require a lot of coding, but it’s still a large project because it basically means you need to do a big web design overhaul.
The first step is to find a new theme for your website. Here are some sources that I like and use regularly:
WordPress themes can range in price anywhere from $0 – $100 or so, but that’s a small price to pay considering you might be saving your website from traffic extinction.
To learn more, read Google’s Mobile SEO guide.
Let me be straight with you. If your website isn’t yet responsive, you’re already way behind the times. I’ve seen statistics that say 50% of traffic is now coming from mobile devices. If your website doesn’t work on small screens, you’re already losing customers or readers. And if you haven’t updated your website in so long that responsive websites didn’t even exist back then, you’re really really far behind the times and it’s very likely that your website looks quite outdated.
I agree that Google’s neverending algorithm updates are a pain the butt. These updates are well-intentioned but they create a lot of trouble for website owners. Unfortunately, we are subject to Google’s whims when most of our website traffic comes from Google, so we have to keep up with their rules.
My advice is to take this as an opportunity to improve your website and possibly your rankings, too.
I offer free site reviews, and that might be a good place to start. I can check your site for mobile issues and other important problems. I can also help if you’ve gotten a warning message from Google, if you don’t know how to set up Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools, or if you’re just not sure how to interpret the data you have.