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The Aftermath of Mobilegeddon and What It Means for Marketers

Mobilegeddon update

When Search Engine Land first used the term “Mobilegeddon” back in March, many marketers wondered whether or not Google’s impending algorithm update would be as catastrophic as the nickname suggested.

The announcement on Google’s Webmaster Central blog stated:

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.

With so many websites and landing pages not optimized for mobile, it was hard not to be skeptical about the potential impact of the update. But it has been a long time coming. After all, Google claimed that it was a “mobile first” company as far back as 2010.

Was the “Mobilegeddon” nickname overly dramatic? Perhaps. Did the update completely strip non-mobile sites from mobile search results? No. But it has definitely had an effect.

What do you need to know?

First off, you need to know that Google is committed to providing a frictionless experience to mobile users. Websites and landing pages that are not meeting the standards that Google has set are being pushed down in mobile search results.

The message is clear: ignore Google’s mobile standards at your own peril.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some data that shows how Google’s April 21st update has affected search results on desktop and on mobile. We’ll also give you a quick glance into the future of mobile at Google, and how they’re showing their commitment to ensuring the best possible experience for mobile users — and for mobile advertisers.

Non-mobile sites are slipping in mobile search results

When Google makes a big algorithm change, it generally takes a couple of weeks before we really start to see changes.

Within a month, Marketing Land found that, while some sites saw no change at all, others were losing up to 35% of their mobile search rankings in the top three positions. Interestingly, rankings had only dropped 10% on desktop search.

One study by Stone Temple Consulting found that nearly 50% of non-mobile friendly URLs had dropped in rank, but in many cases the top search results were replaced with new non-mobile friendly URLs.

The author of the analysis, Eric Enge, posited that this rather mystifying turn of events may be attributed to these three factors:

  1. The Search Quality Update (an algorithm update from May that changed how Google assesses the quality of search results).
  2. Other, smaller algorithm tweaks (Google is constantly updating its search algorithms).
  3. General churn that takes place in Google’s search results.

Enge goes on to say:

This is likely just the start of what Google plans to do with this algorithm. It is typical for Google to test some things and see how they work. Once they have tuned it, and gain confidence on how the algo works on the entire web as a data set, they can turn up the volume and make the impact significantly higher.

So what the heck has Google been up to since that first month? It looks like Enge was right: they’ve been busy tweaking that algorithm.

Almost three months after the update, Moovweb posted the results of a study in which they had analyzed more than 1,000 ecommerce keywords over a variety of industries. The article states:

We found that 83% of the time, the top result is tagged as mobile-friendly by Google. 81% of the time the top 3 results are mobile-friendly. And when you consider all ten of the spots on Google’s first page, 77% of the search results are “mobile-friendly.”

mobile-friendly-search-results-mobilegeddon

Google is clearly making an effort to get mobile-friendly results to the top. The problem is that for far too many keywords, not enough websites are actually following along for Google to even give a complete set of mobile-friendly options on the first page of results.

Mobile-friendliness is affecting AdWords, too

In response to declining traffic caused by the algorithm update, many marketers have begun buying more mobile ads. Sites that are seeing less organic traffic have raised the total CPC (across the board) by 16% as compared to this time last year, according to an Adobe Digital Index report.

Additionally, mobile-friendliness is now a factor in determining Quality Score. Marketers who have built mobile-friendly landing pages in response have been rewarded with winning more auctions and getting more clicks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Any marketers who use landing pages (and that should be all of us) should be paying attention to this. Mobile usage has been increasing constantly over the last few years, with no signs of slowing down. Marketing campaigns that do not have a mobile dimension are going to be losing to the ones that do.

Putting the effort into creating mobile-friendly landing pages is going to be a major factor in both getting clicks to that page and keeping overall campaign costs down — in fact, it already is!

Google has more mobile innovations on the way for marketers

Google is clearly not finished with its mobile updates. They recently unveiled a few new features that should make digital marketers as giddy as a puppy in a mud puddle.

As we all know, conversions on mobile are notoriously low — according to Monetate, mobile users convert about half as often as their desktop counterparts.

Mobile conversion rates by device type

Google is doing its level best to help raise low conversion rates with some rather clever methods of presenting products on mobile. First up is the “Buy Now” button that will be shown in mobile product search results.

Buy now button Mobile Google
Apologies for the blurry image – Google hasn’t made any other images of this feature publicly available. Image source.

Lisa Eadicicco, writing for Business Insider, said:

When you select a product that appears in search results, you’ll be taken to a microsite within Google that has the look and feel of that particular retailer. From there, you can choose to buy the product, or search for another product from that retailer if the specific item you want isn’t shown.

So far about a dozen merchants are using it and apparently it’s been successful (no word as to the actual numbers). Expect them to launch more products with different merchants soon.

This is further testament to Google’s “mobile first” attitude. If Google can help make sales, they will. Similarly, marketers should be doing everything they can to help give their customers an enjoyable mobile experience.

More clicks + better mobile experience after the click + more sales = a winning equation for everyone involved.

Make sure your websites and landing pages are up to code

Google has never before given us the recipe for success to a search algorithm update. But in this case, they’re so committed to the mobile experience that they have laid out the groundwork so that anyone can be compliant and win traffic (and conversions).

The Mobile Guide on the Google Developers website has everything you need to make sure that you are meeting Google’s requirements. You can take the mobile-friendly test, view their handy-dandy mobile SEO guide, and find out what you need to do in order to give your visitors a delightful, Google-approved mobile experience.

Don’t forget: this isn’t just about making Google happy. The reason Google wants you on board is so that you’re providing a great experience for your mobile users. If you concentrate on making that experience one they find useful, informative and delightful, the rest will fall in place.

Ready to start creating friction-free mobile experiences?

We put together a 12-Point Mobile Landing Page Checklist to keep you on track.



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About Mark John Hiemstra
Mark John Hiemstra is a content marketer who formerly worked out of Unbounce’s Montreal office. A writer by day and a reader by night, he is loathe to discuss himself in the third person, but can be persuaded to do so from time to time. Find him on Twitter here: @markjohnh
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  • I was just thinking about this yesterday while running. The buzz around this leading up to the update was crazy. Thanks for a great article.

  • The “handy-dandy mobile SEO guide” is supposed to link to Apple’s website??

  • It does seem like the buzz died down somewhat, but it’s still a relevant issue as you point out. Great article.

    • Mark John Hiemstra

      Thanks for reading, Antonella. :)

  • While the name “Mobilegeddon” was – along with most media about any Google algo update – over hyped, that hype served a purpose. Those stats you pointed out, Mark, show that there is a clear movement favoring mobile — and if there wasn’t such a huge hype most small business owners wouldn’t have taken any notice. So +1 for our paranoia inducing media system (this time around).

    • Mark John Hiemstra

      Hey Shane. Agreed. I would also say that Google’s own efforts to inform people of how to deal with the changes were not only unprecedented in that they actually told us how to prepare, but they also really went out of their way to inform everyone they could. I got an email from them for each of my own sites that broke down the issues that I needed to fix before April 21. “Mobile Update” might have served the purpose just as well, but “mobilegeddon” definitely got a lot more people to pay attention!

  • Thanks for this post – “Mobilegeddon” perspective! Great article for those of us that were early adopters, and for those still sorting through the hype and needing more info!

  • Does this only effect mobile search results, or does this have an impact on normal organic searches on a desktop as well?

    • Hey Dewald,

      The Google Mobile update only affected mobile search results, although I think it’s really interesting to lay out exactly what happened and how this update changed the way Google crawls mobile sites:

      The topic was brought up at Mozcon 2015 last week when Dr. Pete and Cindy Krum explained that this major update wasn’t much of a “geddon” at all. Google basically cried wolf and got us to think the update was bigger than it was so that more and more sites would become mobile friendly out of fear for losing traffic. In hindsight, Google got what it wanted, with mobile SERPS now being approx. 80% mobile friendly. Of course, some non-mobile friendly sites dropped in rank, but the majority of the change in SERPs displaying “mobile-friendly” tags was driven by the fact that a ton of websites made the switch to mobile – it wasn’t solely a ranking shift by any means.

      The only thing that Google cared about in the Google friendly update was that webmasters made CSS and Javascript crawlable so the mobile Googlebots could better understand the rendering of content on different devices.

      If the Mobile Googlebots crawled your page and deemed it to display properly on mobile, it rewarded you with that “mobile-friendly” tag in the SERPs.

      NOTE: That tag does not mean your site is optimized for mobile user experience!

      At this moment, Googlebot mobile is only understanding the visual rendering of mobile pages. The desktop version of the bot is the one crawling and analyzing your text content.

      So what does that mean?

      1. Your desktop content is the main factor contributing to your mobile rankings.

      2. Google has not fully integrated mobile user experience into its algorithm yet. Things like tap targets, font size and viewport settings are not considered when tagging your site “mobile friendly”. Although these items don’t seem to be directly affecting rankings yet, you can bet they will in the near future.