It’s not very often (or ever) that Google loudly announces an impending algorithm update. That’s why we’re taking the upcoming update on April 21st very seriously. Keeping track of what this means for SEOs has been time consuming, so we wanted to compile a list of resources for everyone.
What is it?
Google has announced that starting April 21st, mobile usability will be a ranking factor in mobile search. This isn’t surprising news, Google has made it clear the last few years that it values mobile experience and websites should provide a good user experience for all devices.
Not only is Google warning webmasters that this change is happening, but it’s even giving us tools to check our websites. If Google is taking this seriously, so should you.
But how big of a deal is this?
Well it’s bigger than both Penguin and Panda. Talk to any experienced SEO, and they likely have war stories from one or both of those updates. If you don’t live in the world of SEO with us, just know that being caught on the wrong end of an update can seriously dent your organic traffic.
Penguin and Panda were both purposefully named after black and white animals because they began penalizing black hat SEO (and, as a result, rewarding white hat SEO). Now, this update hasn’t been given a formal name yet, so we’re making our mark now and calling it PTERODACTYL.
Now, this works on a few levels:
- Pterodactyl starts with a P. Consistency is important.
- Pterodactyls are REALLY big. 35 foot wing spans!
- Pterodactyls are mobile. See: wingspan
- Pterodactyls are scary. What? You don’t think a flying, featherless dinosaur large enough to blot out the sun is scary? You’re crazy.
- Pterodactyl is a great word. It’s fun to say and it’s got TWO crazy letter combinations (PT and TYL).
So What Do We Know?
A lot. And not much at all. Let’s break it down:
You’re either mobile, or not mobile, there is no try.
“There is no spectrum of ‘mobile friendliness’. Pages are either mobile-friendly or not, as determined by the presence or absence of a mobile-friendly label in mobile search results.” – Source
This is actually pretty good to know. There isn’t any shades of grey with this update, you either are or are not mobile friendly. Considering there are some conflicting messages from Google’s own suite of tools, this is (mostly) good news. But that brings up another problem. How do you know if you’re mobile friendly?
Google yourself (but do so carefully, please).
“Use your smartphone to look up your site in Google search. If you see the gray “mobile-friendly” label next to your site, then you’re good. If you don’t see that label then you have some work to do before April 21st.” – Source
If you’re like us and have websites that pass Google’s mobility test, but are still generating email warnings from webmaster tools, then this should help to clear things up. Simply Google yourself on your phone, and search for that grey “mobile-friendly” label. Keep in mind, though, any changes you make to the site won’t immediately be recognized by Google.
Real Time Updates
“Also confirmed by [Gary] Illyes was the fact that the ranking factor runs in real time. There are no big ‘data pushes’ that have to run before there’s a chance of a ranking uplift.
This doesn’t mean changes to your site will be acted on immediately. Google will still have to crawl your site and recognize the change before you see any benefits.” – Source
Fortunately, this update doesn’t look like it’ll follow the Penguin and Panda update model. Websites that were penalized under those updates had to toil away in Google purgatory for months waiting on Google to revisit their case. This can be tough for e-commerce websites that depend on Google traffic as a primary source of revenue.
So, by at least one source, if you aren’t able to make your site mobile friendly this month, whenever you can make the switch, you should see nearly instant increase in your rankings.
It won’t affect Google News Rankings…for now:
“As of now, Google News is not committed to making that change yet. We are always exploring because we think it is awesome that sites are trying to be more mobile friendly. I love that. And Google News is very well aware that search is doing that… We are definitely exploring that option as well but don’t have an exact timeline for that or even whether or not we will implement that.” – Source
The quote above spells it out pretty plainly, if you’re working on a site that’s being crawled by Google News, you’re safe for now, but we’d recommend that you get working on a mobile solution now, before anything official comes knocking at your door.
That’s all we know for now. If anything else becomes apparent, we’ll update this list, so keep us bookmarked and check back every so often.
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