Mobilegeddon, a Non-Event? Why Did Google Cry Wolf Over Its Mobile-Friendly Update?

  • June 5, 2015
  • SEO
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mobilequestionmarkDespite dramatic warnings, Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update turned out not to be all that significant. It’s been already one month and a half since Mobilegeddon was rolled out, but the update has been inconsistent so far. Although some companies have started noticing shifts in the mobile results as early as April 22nd, one day after Mobilegeddon was launched, those shifts proved to be very little significant.

Taking into account that an update can take one week, maybe even two weeks, to fully roll out, companies have decided to wait for Mobilegeddon to apply the changes. To date, Google’s most recent update still has not impacted websites that are not mobile-optimised. Was Mobilegeddon only an attempt to mobilise brands to improve mobile experience and keep users searching instead of using mobile apps?

The Predictions

On Thursday, February 26, Google publicly informed that mobile friendliness would become an important ranking factor as of April 21. The change was set to “affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and […] have a significant impact in […] search results.” The objective was clear: to help users find relevant, high quality results that are optimised for their devices.
Soon after this, the Mobilegeddon became more like a predicted “storm of the century” travelling up the East Coast of the United States. The mainstream media picked up on it, and articles have started getting more and more ominous as the launch day of the algorithm update was approaching.
An article published on The Motley Fool back on April 28 talks about how Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm could alienate nearly half of top ranking websites by forcing them to upgrade. But for the upgrade to be possible, brands need to rethink not only website design, but also their content marketing efforts.
On April 12, an article on TechCrunch has shown that two-thirds of the Fortune 100 websites were not ready for Mobilegeddon. Using the Google PageSpeed Insights API, TechCrunch has then crawled every Fortune 500 website to identify those that are mobile friendly, and those that are at risk of getting penalised. The results of the survey showed just how pervasive mobile optimisation really is, as 44 percent of Fortune 500 sites failed the test, whilst 4 percent of them did not produce a response. Meaning, over 40 percent of Fortune 500 websites could expect to rank significantly lower in mobile search results after the launch of Mobilegeddon.

Mobilegeddon’s Traffic Impact

Despite these predictions, and in spite of Google urging brands to make their website mobile-friendly, Mobilegeddon was a non-event. The update has come and gone with barely a whimper. But still, many websites that are mobile unfriendly (or mobile nasty, as Mark Munroe from Marketing Land names them) have experienced very little drop in traffic.
If you take a look at the following ranking report, you will notice that the average mobile position dropped by 0.4, which is absolutely inconsistent.
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But there’s more data showing that Google’s Mobilegeddon has not been as efficient as initially advertised. Dr. Peter Meyers from Moz reports that, after keeping track of mobile search result rankings, the “phonepocalypse” as some experts name the algorithm update was more of an all-bark-no-bite event. It did impact mobile rankings, but to a very little extent.
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Marcus Tober from SearchMetrics has declared that, despite “some significant changes visible in the data,” Mobilegeddon has not fully rolled out yet. After surveying more than 20,000 URLs, content marketing platform BrightEdge has reported a 21 percent average decrease in the number of non-mobile friendly websites on the first search engine result pages. The decrease seemed to be more pronounced on pages two and three: 20.7 and 25.2 respectively, as compared to just 17.3 percent on the first page.
BrightEdge hypothesises that Mobilegeddon had a bigger impact on pages two and three due to ranking factors being generally weaker past the first page. And except for branded searches, most non-friendly websites have been largely wiped out, which shows that Google’s algorithm update has had effect in the end.
To emphasise the impact of Mobilegeddon on website traffic, BrightEdge has shown how American Apparel, one of the most popular and highly reputable clothing brands nationwide, is losing website visitors in favour of mobile-optimised websites. Although the brand shows at the top of SERPs for “best American apparel,” it hits only the fifth SERP for terms like “best American clothes,” which favours less popular brands that have mobile-optimised websites.
According to Colin Guidi, director of SEO at 3Q Digital, companies should understand that mobile friendliness is only one ranking factor employed by Google’s algorithm, but there are 200 others. As such, it’s no doubt that the shift in mobile search results was less categorical than initially expected.

Why the Disconnect Between the Warning and Outcome?

This question certainly raises a good point – a better mobile web is in Google’s best interests, and rightly so. Due to the app environment growing at a very fast speed, most users spend less time searching for information on the web, so they are less likely to click ads. As a result, brands will no longer create AdWords campaigns, so Google may as well lose significant revenue over time.
One factor that supports this theory is Google’s announcement of the algorithm update six weeks earlier, which created a strong sense of urgency for brands to take action on their unfriendly mobile websites. Was Google using its power to push the web in the direction it wanted it to go?
Another possibility is that Google has specifically tuned down the algorithm to lessen its impact on websites that users want to see. This algorithm update is fundamentally different from Panda, which penalises poor quality, and Penguin, which penalises false reputations. Many websites that rank normally and provide exactly the content that users are looking for may have mobile usability issues. By applying the Mobilegeddon update, these websites would be dinged – something that Google doesn’t want to happen. So to prevent this, Google has chosen to reduce the effect of this algorithm update, allowing trustworthy websites to still rank well, but penalising websites with poor content and bad mobile user experience.

How will the SEO community react when Google announces their next algorithm change? The Google algorithm “hammer” may as well fall on deaf ears the next time it forecasts a major update with very significant results. By inspiring sites to improve and create a good user experience, brands can quickly establish more trust and also increase their base of customers. And since mobile friendliness remains an important ranking factor with or without Mobilegeddon, this change can go a long way toward building a solid reputation.

 

Laurence Porter has been working in SEO since 2006 and is passionate about onsite SEO, Content marketing and social media. His main aim is to bring all of these different elements together to offer his clients a well-rounded, far reaching digital marketing strategy with the best possible ROI and brand exposure.

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