Marketing & Business
piece written on the 1st April 2015 by  

By now most people who run a website or are involved in digital marketing in any capacity would have read about Google’s plans to launch an algorithm update towards the 21st of April this year. There have been a huge number of articles with different opinions about us, but at the end of the day there are also some facts and I want to try and demystify this somewhat.

Last month, on the 26th of February, Google made an official announcement. In this announcement they stated that the change will affect mobile searches in all languages and across all countries. They went on to state that it will have a significant impact on search results as we know them. The important thing to note here is that Google have specifically said “mobile searches”.. not desktop searches. Now, if you’re a desktop user and your website ranks nicely in Google you’ll more than likely remain where you are, but with the huge uptake in mobile it’s important to be aware of where your website ranks in that regard because if it’s not mobile-friendly, that’s where you could see a drop in rankings.

Google also stated more recently that we can expect the update towards April 21st, but that it could take them up to a week or more to roll out all the updates and they didn’t clarify too much around that, so it might be a few days before and it might be a few days after. With algorithm updates countries are impacted at different times so if you’re in South Africa you might only get impacted towards the end of the update whereas those in America may be impacted right at the beginning. The import thing here is to ensure that your website is mobile-friendly, in my opinion, a week before the update – this is if you’re concerned about mobile traffic to your website. If you log into your Google Analytics account and click through to Audience > Mobile > Overview you’ll get a quick snapshot of how many people are coming to your website on mobile devices.

Whenever someone talks about Google’s algorithm updates, one of the first words to pop up is “penalty”. As of right now, Google has said nothing about a penalty. The focus is in “ranking boost” which implies that those who are optimised for mobile will benefit from the update and those who aren’t will move down simply because those moved up will surpass them. This is very different to a penalty, which usually results in impacted websites being moved well down in the rankings and/or removed completely.

Another interesting matter that has surfaced around this is whether the update will impact an entire website or just the pages on the website that aren’t mobile-friendly. I read an article on Search Engine Land that quoted Gary Illyes stating that the algorithm will be run on a page-by-page basis which means that the algorithm update will impact on a page level and not a domain level. This means that if you have 10 pages on your website and only 6 are mobile-friendly, then the 4 that aren’t will be affected, not all 10. This is interesting and perhaps a good thing for a lot of people because it gives you an opportunity to at least get your top landing pages optimised.

Google was kind enough to launch a mobile-friendly testing tool that allows you to enter in your website address and in return it tells you whether your website is mobile-friendly or not. You can use the tool here (it’s completely free) and I think it would be a good idea for everyone to do this.

Lastly, I know that Moz are working on a mobile version of their Mozcast and this is going to be incredibly useful as we get closer to the 21st of April.

If you have any questions please pop me a comment below or drop me a tweet on @ChristopherM.