It’s been over 12 months now since Google launched its algorithm update to rank responsive websites more favourably for searches from mobile devices. The much-talked-about update was rolled out on April 21 2015, sending ripples through the internet as businesses all over the world scrambled to convert or replace their websites to ensure they were mobile friendly.
With over half of all searches worldwide being made from a smart phone, tablet or other mobile device, the market demand was for search results to find quality results based on device as well as relevance to the search. Google’s commitment to deliver quality results to consumers meant any sites non-responsive to different screen sizes and without a viable mobile version would be ranked lower than other sites in comparable search results delivered to a mobile device.
So how has Google’s mobile-friendly page rating indicator affected your website?
We decided to take a look. First we needed to find a good test case, namely a website we had hosted for more than 2 years, which had undergone the conversion to a mobile-friendly version just before Google’s mobile algorithm update went live. The site we chose was one that had not had any other significant changes to the way it was managed for its SEO in the time period measured (2 years from April 2014).
Accommodation New Zealand is a portal site for accommodation providers in New Zealand to list their businesses and attract booking enquiries. Visitor numbers are high enough each month to give a large enough survey group to ensure a true measure, which would not be affected adversely by other factors. Rather than just see where the site ranked in our targeted searches – which is really only the first factor in a site’s performance – we looked at the actual visitor stats and how they had changed. The results were even better than we expected. We knew the site had held its place in search results using our targeted key phrases, as we monitor and maintain this monthly as part of our ongoing SEO strategy. When we compared April’s visitor data for the same time last year, we discovered the performance of the site was significantly better.
The following graphic is taken from the site’s Google Analytics report, and shows the difference in key visitor data for the month April 2015 compared to April 2016.
Numbers of visits to the site for April 2016 compared to April 2015 were up by around 47%, with an additional 335 visitors (up 48.27%). The number of page views for the month of April also went up by nearly 45%.
This last statistic reinforces the conclusion that the relevance of the site for visitors remains on a par with the visitor numbers. As browsing from a mobile device is often done on the go rather than seated in front of a screen, a small dip in page views is not considered unusual. In fact in this instance it is barely noticeable.
More mobile related changes from Google in May 2016
Google has announced on the Webmaster blog that they are now boosting the effects of the mobile-friendly algorithm they launched back in April last year, giving more weight to the mobile-friendly ranking signal for search results to mobile devices. Roll-out of this latest update began at the beginning in May, and will take effect gradually. The mobile-friendly algorithm is a page-by-page signal, which means it will take time for Google to re-calibrate every live website in its page rankings according to the new formula.
Google has said if you are already mobile-friendly, you do not have to worry, because you will not be impacted by this update. For those sites that have yet to go mobile friendly, then the news is less welcome. If you are not mobile-friendly, or if you want to ensure you are, check the Google mobile-friendly tool, and check Google’s mobile guidelines.
What does this all mean for the average business website?
Although there are over 200 ranking signals used by Google, this is by far the most significant in that either your site is or isn’t mobile friendly, and will either be rewarded or penalised. There is no sliding scale.
It is also important to remember that the intent of the search query is still a very strong signal — so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank well if it has great, relevant content. However, relying on the poor content of your competitors to achieve a better result is not really a gamble we would recommend. Chances are, if you don’t think having a responsive website is worth your investment you are unlikely to have put much effort into improving your content either. Remember, over 50% of searches are made from a mobile device – can you afford to miss out on half of these?
If you’d like to discuss converting your website to one that is mobile friendly, or are interested in how to improve your existing content, contact Craig at Web Tonic.