Guest Post by Demian
Farnworth on Copyblogger
Picture this. You are standing in a booth. People are
lined up, handing you money in exchange for a small
book. This lasts, with little let up, for most of the day. At
sundown, you tuck your money in a backpack and head
This has been your life for the last two years. Business
has been good, so there was no reason to suspect anything would
be different the next day.
Except there was.
You show up to your little booth, and wait. Occasionally,
a customer trickles in, but otherwise you are alone. Around
lunchtime, you peer down the lane. A few stalls seem to have a
steady stream of customers. But not many.
You look at the calendar. It is April 21, 2015. You
scratch your head and wonder if tomorrow is going to be
An odd warning about mobile search
The story above is analogous to how Google’s algorithm
updates typically unfold. Website and small business owners
wake up one day to find the landscape drastically
Panda and Penguin are the usual examples we like to
trot out. In those cases, however, those who were caught up in
the convulsions deserved their punishments. It was clear they
were violating — at least, pushing the limits of — what Google
But Google’s update to their mobile algorithm is
different. We actually got an explicit warning that a change to
the algorithm was coming.
This was posted on February 26,
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
That date is important, but so is the word in
My dictionary defines “significant” as “important; of
consequence.” It’s the kind of thing you hear from a
In plain English: You better pay attention.
This update should surprise no one
The concern for mobile-friendliness is not a new
direction for Google. As far back as 2011, they were declaring,
based on the growing number mobile users, the Zero Moment of Truth.
Since then, those mobile numbers have only increased, as
I reported in an early 2015 article on adaptive content. And others are validating what
we already know to be true.
According to Mitul Gandhi of seoClarity, 30 percent of total traffic comes from
mobile, regardless of industry.
For some of us, it’s more than half of all search traffic
… and growing by the moment.
Another clear warning from Google about mobile-friendly
But that wasn’t all.
In November 2014, Google announced its intentions to help
users find more mobile-friendly sites. How? By
adding a label to mobile-friendly sites in search engine
Here’s an example:
The user now has a choice. They can avoid the sites that
aren’t labeled as “Mobile-friendly,” driving more traffic to
the sites that are. In this case, Google wasn’t affecting
rankings with this move. Just clickthroughs.
But with the update to their mobile algorithm, it seems
they are going to change the ranking landscape.
Google went on to explain in that announcement, “A page
is eligible for the ‘Mobile-friendly’ label if it meets the
following criteria as detected by Googlebot.”
Here is the criteria:
Website software that’s compatible with mobile (so no
Flash, for example)
- Large, readable text without zooming
Content automatically resizes to fit the screen (so you
don’t have to scroll horizontally)
Large links with plenty of space between each so they
are easily tapped
If you think about, though, this is
standard responsive web design stuff. Things we’ve
been discussing around here for years.
And this is probably a good time to point out that this
mobile-ranking update is not site-wide. In
other words, Google is looking at specific pages on your
However, if you are worried about your site not being
mobile-friendly, you can solve that problem with
a simple upgrade to a web responsive theme. And
you’ll solve a number of problems in the process.
But before we jump to what you need to do, let’s talk
about consequences. Like what kind of consequences you can
expect if you don’t fix the problem …
The truth is, it all depends on how much of your traffic
comes from mobile devices (including tablets).
How much mobile traffic does your site get?
Over at Search Engine Journal Tom Demers writes, “Within Google
Analytics, you can quickly get a sense of the overall mobile
traffic to your site by navigating to Audience
> Mobile > Overview and looking at the
breakdown of desktop/mobile/tablet.”
That’s a great starting point.
If you want a more sophisticated method, study Bryson
Meunier’s article How Much Traffic Will You Lose From The
Upcoming Mobile SEO-Pocalypse?.
Or check out this detailed guide on mobile SEO.
During your research of your own site, you might be
surprised by what you find. For example, Moz, a huge
website, discovered that less than one percent of their
website traffic is mobile.
In other words, if they didn’t make their website
mobile-friendly, they probably
would not notice a difference in traffic
after April 21. Regardless, Moz did decide to make their site
And, of course, you should, too (for some of the reasons
I stated above). Consider it an investment in the
Besides, why not give the best possible experience to
users? Surely your mobile user base will rise over time. Why
not be prepared rather than scurrying to catch up?
How can you test your web pages for
Perhaps you don’t even know if your site is
mobile-friendly. The quick and dirty way to find out is simply
to look up a page on your smartphone.
Is the “Mobile-friendly” label visible in the search
If you see the label, then yes, that page is
mobile-friendly. Is the rest of the site?
Google has a great tool to test if a web page is
mobile-friendly. The Mobile-Friendly Test.
And the results look like this:
That’s just one page, though. For example, my site, The
Copybot, is not complicated, but every post and page is
mobile-friendly because of the StudioPress theme Minimum I use.
It’s still not too late
To conclude, on April 21, 2015, Google will update their
algorithm. It will favor pages that are mobile-friendly and
penalize pages that are not.
We can only speculate on what that penalty will look
like, but if history is any indicator, we can expect something
similar to the scene I described in the beginning of this
The question is: Are you prepared?