Google Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update – 21 April 2015

Another algorithm update is on the way from Google. SEO’s don’t generally like algorithm changes – apart from the fact that they keep us in work of course. But this time It’s been generally welcomed (before the release anyway).

What will the mobile-friendly algorithm do?

Simply, how mobile-friendly your site is will count as a ranking factor from 21st April 2015. This means that mobile friendly sites could/should outrank non-mobile-friendly sites in Google search results-

Mobile-friendly example
Google have had the “mobile-friendly” text showing in mobile results for some time now.

Google have been moving in this direction for some time now. For example we had the addition of the text “mobile friendly” to mobile search results (image on right – or above if you’re on a mobile!).

It is important to note that the update will only affect mobile search queries. This means, different sites that are not mobile friendly will have differing levels of impact depending on the number of organic mobile visitors they currently have.

How big is this algorithm change going to be.

We count the size of a change by the percentage of sites it will effect. It’s going to be very big indeed. While Google haven’t given any figure, Zineb Ait Bahajji, from the Google Trends team said at SMX Munich that it would have a greater impact than either Panda or Penguin.

Panda impacted 12% of queries (in English) and Penguin impacted only 4%. I say only 4%, but to those that were caught by it, the results were devastating.

How to find out if your site is mobile-friendly.

Find out now by taking the Mobile-friendly test.

You will either find you get a result back like Serpstone’s below

No worries here!
No worries here!

…or another site which will remain anonymous.

Oops! but it may not be the end of the world.
Oops! but it may not be the end of the world.


Is now a good time to panic?

So, your site isn’t mobile friendly? Are you about to lose all your business on Tuesday 17th April? Relax a little, that is probably not the case.

A better question to ask is how much revenue are you about to lose?

Let’s take an e-commerce site as an example.

visits (%) revenue (%)
Visitors 40,000 (100%)  100k (100%)
Mobile visitors 15,000 (37.5%)  12k (12%)
Desktop visitors  25,000 (62.5%)  88k (88%)

While the numbers are entirely fictional, the percentages are probably not too far removed from a lot of e-commerce sites (in Ireland).

What we see here is that despite nearly 40% of visits coming from mobiles, they are much slower to convert into actual revenue, with only 12% of sales actually coming from that traffic. This is a general trend with mobile traffic where e-commerce is concerned.

We mustn’t forget that only mobile traffic is going to be affected. So, where looking at just visits the situation looks really dire, the reality is, that our worst case scenario for this update is losing 12% of sales as a result of the mobile-friendly update in this fictional case.

Cross device sales

Before we relax thinking 12% is bad but it could be worse, and we have a site update scheduled for the next year anyway:-

What about your cross device sales? This is where a user starts a sales process on one device (perhaps checking prices online while standing in front of a product in a shop), and then finishes the transaction (your cheaper product) when they get home on their laptop.

Although your revenue percentage from mobile may be low, your desktop sales could also be affected by changes to your mobile traffic.

In this case, the person standing in front of a product in a shop wouldn’t find your site when looking up prices and would buy elsewhere.

You can find out more about cross device sales through your analytics (more information here).

Non-e-commerce sites

It is much harder to put a monetary value on a non-e-commerce site’s mobile traffic. How many leads do you get from it? How many of those leads do you convert? Only you can answer those questions. Even when tracking calls, forms or email enquiries from the site you never get the whole picture.

However, a non-e-commerce site is more likely to gain a higher share of it’s revenue / lead generation from mobile traffic. There is no need to enter credit card details for example ( a big block to making a sale in public on a mobile for an e-commerce site ). Mobile users are far more likely to search, find you and then call you straight away.

For this reason I think that non-e-commerce sites have far more to lose if they are not mobile friendly.

How much of a priority should being mobile-friendly be?

This is going to depend on a few factors:-

  1. Using your own data to look at potential losses in the table above, how much do you stand to lose vs the cost of updating your site?
  2. Are your direct competitors mobile-friendly? If they are also not, then you are all in the same boat and you’re unlikely to lose as much traffic. If they are mobile friendly then you’re going to be dropping below them in ranking (all other factors being equal).
  3. The unknown: We don’t know yet just how rigorous this update is going to be. A ranking factor interacts with other ranking factors and is never a stand alone item.

Why is this update important globally?

In the official announcement on the Webmaster Central Blog, Google 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.”

Google reckon that 50% of searches are performed on mobile devices overall. This is even greater in developing economies, where there is much better access to mobile devices than to desktop or laptops. Developing economies are a growth area for Google globally and therefore extremely important.

After all, Google built it’s reputation on delivering the best search results. Sites that are not mobile friendly give a poor user experience on mobile devices and therefore impact not only user experience, but user satisfaction with Google itself. Lower satisfaction = lower usage = lower ad clicks = lower revenue.

So, there’s a good business reason for the update, but it happens to be great for users too. Does anybody actually enjoy zooming and navigating a single web page? Not I.

Published by

Ian Wortley

Ian knows a thing or two about SEO... and Adwords... and UX... and a few more things besides that. If you're feeling social add him on the following social networks: | Linkedin | Twitter

  • Ian

    Not seeing changes yet? Google say “You won’t be able to definitively determine whether your site’s rankings are impacted by the mobile-friendly update by April 22nd. While we begin rolling out the mobile-friendly update on April 21st, it’ll be a week or so before it makes its way to all pages in the index. ”

    This is a global rollout in all languages, so a week (or even a month) is not so long really. They have also said, as I stated in the article, that this is one part of the algorithm, so things like user intent carry a lot of weight. In other words, a non-mobile friendly site can still outrank a mobile friendly site on a mobile device if the information and other factors are good.

    See the full release from Google here: