Mobilegeddon Q&A

question mark imageIt’s been a few days since I first wrote about Google’s upcoming mobile algorithm change. Since then, we’ve had a slew of questions, and we’ve even learned a few more things about the algorithm itself. Before I share this, let’s first recap my previous guidance for understanding the scope of your mobile traffic, and surfacing any problems you might have on your websites.

The Five Things You Need to Do To Prepare for April 21

  1. Check your mobile traffic in Google Analytics
  2. Using your smartphone, look for the “mobile-friendly” tag in search results
  3. Check your pages with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test
  4. Review the Mobile Usability Report in Google Webmaster Tools
  5. Check the Mobile User Experience score on Google PageSpeed Insights

None of this has changed, and it’s as important today that you do this as it was when I originally wrote my blog post. So if you haven’t gotten to it yet, it’s time to get crackin’!

Now, let’s tackle some of the questions we’ve received…

When will the new algorithm actually affect my site?

Based on what we’ve heard from Google, here’s what you can expect: the new Mobile Algorithm update will “go live” on April 21, but it will take several weeks for it to have an effect across the entire index. This means that even if you have a decidedly mobile-UNfriendly site, you may not notice immediate penalties. Or, you could see change on the 21st. There’s simply no way for us to predict when a specific site will be affected. So, be patient and remember that if you have problems on your site, it may take a little time for you to feel the effects of the algorithm update.

I heard that Google already deployed the mobile algorithm update. Is this true?

If you visit the right forums and websites, or crawl through some of the darker corners of the Net where webmasters talk shop, you might see some individuals claiming they’ve already been penalized by the new mobile algorithm update.

Take such claims with a grain of salt.

While it’s certainly possible — especially given that Google has been much more circumspect and reluctant to officially announce their algorithm updates — the fact remains that they’ve been specific about the date of this one. April 21. Additionally, they have been going out of the way to help webmasters prepare for it (and they’ve been doing so for quite some time). Given this, I think it unlikely that the algorithm has actually been deployed.

But what to make of the claims that it has?

For every claim that a site has already been “hit” by the new algorithm, I consider the possibilities…and then use Occam’s Razor to cut away the unlikely ones.

When you hear someone claim their site is already affected by the April 21 update, here are three possibilities that could explain it:

  1. False attribution: The website has seen an actual decrease in traffic from Google organic search, but this decrease has nothing to do with the mobile algorithm update. The sites in question are, in fact, suffering from algorithmic or manual penalties for other reasons.
  2. Testing artifacts: It’s not unreasonable to expect that Google has been and will be testing the algorithm change. Perhaps this means that some sites are affected early…and this is what webmasters are actually seeing.
  3. Google lied about the date: Google is mounting an elaborate campaign of deception by communicating one date, and then deploying the update much earlier than promised.

If you can’t tell, I tend to chalk up claims of an early release to the first possibility listed above. But not all webmasters share my conservative views.

Will my whole site be penalized because I have some pages that are not mobile optimized?

No. …or at least, not directly.

At SMX West, Gary Illyes (a Google employee) revealed that the algorithm operates on a per-page basis. This means that pages are evaluated and (possibly) penalized independently of each other.

While this might seem reassuring if you’re responsible for a site that has an obvious problem with mobile usability on many pages, don’t interpret this to mean your site as a whole won’t suffer. Remember, Google uses hundreds of ranking factors…and some even appear to influence others.

In my experience, sites with a superabundance of problems at the page level (broken links, bad experience, etc…) often experience site-wide ranking consequences. So I interpret Gary Illyes’ comments to mean that an entire website won’t be penalized because it has “some” problematic pages.

How long will a penalty last?

Well, if you do nothing to ever fix mobile usability problems on your site, any penalties you suffer from will likely be permanent. But that’s an extreme form of neglect that we don’t often see among professionally-maintained websites.

It’s more than likely that sites that are penalized will eventually fix the underlying mobile usability problems. And when they do, they should expect that any penalties they’ve suffered as a result of the new algorithm will be lifted.

How exactly will this work? Google hasn’t given explicit guidance on it, but my expectation is that penalized pages that are subsequently fixed will see positive changes the next time they are crawled and reindexed.

I have a separate mobile site. Am I safe?

You would have to work hard to misconstrue Google’s stance on this: “Responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern.” It’s where all sites should be moving (if they aren’t there already).

With that said, if you have a separate mobile site that is passing the mobile-friendly test, it should do just fine.

And if your main website is configured to correctly detect mobile traffic and redirect to the appropriate page on the mobile site, things should be OK. But this is a notoriously troublesome way to accommodate mobile traffic, and such sites are often rife with configuration issues that may cause problems in a post #mobilegeddon world. So be careful.

The advice I give in this circumstance is check, test, and retest your configuration to make sure it follows Google’s guidance for separate mobile sites…then cross your fingers while you make plans for your responsive redesign.

Our site fails the mobile-friendly test. We know it has poor mobile usability…but there’s no way we can do a responsive redesign by April 21. What should we do?

Sadly, this is not an uncommon situation. It goes without saying that you should be talking with someone who can help. And this obviously means help you plan for your site redesign. But it also means, help you assess where you currently stand…and what you can do to mitigate your exposure.

Do some digging in Google Analytics. It may be that you can identify a small number of high-value pages that you can change to be mobile-friendly. Or, you can even implement a mobile site composed of your highest-value pages to get you through the update and buy you time while you work on your responsive redesign.

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This entry was posted in Admin Feed, Design, Geo.com Homepage Panel, Search/SEO/PPC by Michael O'Neill. Bookmark the permalink.
Michael O'Neill

About Michael O'Neill

It’s not often you find a communications professional who is an expert writer, understands the power of social media and has the technical capabilities to embed on and contribute to software development teams. But that’s exactly the background Michael brought with him to Geonetric as the technical communications strategist. From writing eBooks to managing Geonetric’s digital presence, Michael uses his software know how and his marketing savvy to help tell Geonetric’s story through a variety of platforms. This former adjunct professor holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Worcester State College in Massachusetts and completed graduate level coursework at the University of Connecticut. In addition, Michael is also a Certified ScrumMaster, a contributing writer at iBusiness Magazine and a member of the Board of Directors at Gems of Hope. This new dad is known for his high coffee standards and has quite the following around the office when he brings in his favorite craft-roasted beans.

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