Content Marketing Blog

Google’s mobile-friendly update could mean lower rankings for 40% of websites

Google’s much-anticipated mobile-friendly algorithm update could mean lower search rankings for up to 40 per cent of websites, according to a study.

Researchers at Portent, a US online marketing consultancy, found that 10,000 of the 25,000 websites they checked against Google’s mobile requirements failed to make the grade.

The websites chosen for Portent’s study were among the most popular sites on the internet, which doesn’t bode well for sites further down the pecking order.

The most common reasons for sites failing the mobile-compatibility test were text size and link spacing, which can make content difficult to read and pages hard to navigate on smaller screens and when your forefinger has to do the mouse-work.

Portent’s results are available in full here and the accompanying infographic is embedded below. If you’re concerned that your site might not get the mobile-friendly tick, you can check it for free using this tool.

How does the mobile-friendly update compare to Panda and Penguin?

Last month, Google analyst Zineb Ait Bahajji created some buzz when she announced that the mobile-friendly update would be bigger than Panda and Penguin.

Google’s Panda and Penguin updates remain the most significant changes to the search algorithm, with multiple iterations having been rolled out since 2011.

Google Panda continues to reward quality contentGoogle's Penguin updates target sites gaming the system

Panda is primarily concerned with page quality, looking to reward unique content that provides real value for users and punishing sites with duplicate, thin or weak content. Penguin targets some of the common methods used to game the system, such as stuffing page titles with keywords or acquiring links from so-called “bad neighbourhoods” like link farms and some article directories.

Mobile-friendly sites have performed better in search since last year. Google has also introduced a “Mobile Friendly” label in its search results to highlight sites offering a better user experience for mobile users.

The real significance of this update is the effect it is expected to have on mobile search results. It is not likely to change what you see the next time you Google something on your PC. But the same search on your smartphone could look very different.

If Portent’s research is representative, then almost half of the websites you see now in your results could see themselves pushed down the rankings. It is worth noting that Portent’s study was released on April 3rd, so sites have had time to make the necessary adjustments, which can sometimes be relatively quick and easy to do.

Why does mobile search matter?

A lot of companies in Australia and New Zealand underestimate the amount of traffic they get from mobile devices. The vast improvement in what smartphones can do, combined with the rapid growth in tablet ownership, means people are now increasingly likely to look for your site on a mobile device.

If your site is not mobile-friendly, this update raises the stakes for you. Previously, a potential customer may have found your site and been left disappointed with the user experience. Perhaps they gave you the benefit of the doubt and tried again when they got home rather than immediately taking their business elsewhere. But after tonight’s update your site could be nowhere to be seen.

Google’s mobile-friendly update goes live April 21st in the US (April 22nd down here). Google’s official blog post announcing the change is available here.

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