Google's Mobile Update April 21st: The Facts, Straight from Google
There have been hundreds of posts, guides, opinions, and news briefs written about Google’s mobile update slated for April 21st since Google’s announcement post on the Webmaster Central Blog.
Rumor, advice, and theory has been flying hard and fast. We’re now less than two weeks out, and despite best intentions information is scattered and everyone’s sending a slightly different message.
I’m hoping this post can help cut through the noise, presenting facts and facts alone, spoken directly by a Google employee. No room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding.
Google released a Q&A session for mobile-friendly ranking change on March 24th. Many of the facts in this post will be pulled directly from this video – I highly encourage you to watch the entire video, if you have the time.
Let’s wade right into it.
The Purpose of Google's Mobile Update
Often lost in the noise online is the purpose of this update. People clamor about what the update targets, the impact, who will be affected, the rollout, etc. etc.
Within this deluge the most important piece is lost: why has Google planned, created, tested, and is now releasing this algorithm? What is the point?
The point of Google’s mobile update on April 21st is to ensure mobile searchers find mobile-friendly results in search. They do not want people on mobile devices being directed to sites that perform sub-optimally.
That’s it. That’s the whole enchilada.
If you search for something on your phone, Google wants to be sure the result you click on is mobile-friendly. That it doesn’t create a bad user experience.
Google no longer wants to return desktop only results for mobile searchers.
Sounds too obvious, right? Hasn’t Google been doing this all along? The surprising answer is no. Not to the extent they are now planning, starting April 21st.
Google is just now creating the search feature everyone assumed they already had. Ammon Johns had a great post about this on Google Plus, calling it “Lemmingism in SEO”. If you’re struggling to understand this April 21st update, I highly encourage you to read it.
The Important Facts
Let’s talk impact. Who will this affect? What search results? Who should be worried?
Just the facts, people. Just the facts.
1. The update will ONLY affect mobile organic search traffic.
2. The update will NOT impact desktop search. Period.
3. The update will NOT impact tablet search – again, only mobile search (smartphones).
@Jumzle The upcoming mobile-friendly change is for mobile users, not tablet users.
— Google Webmasters (@googlewmc) April 1, 2015
Recap: the update will only impact mobile search, not desktop or tablet.
4. This will be a worldwide roll out, not just English speaking languages.
Google plans to release the algorithm out worldwide, although it will take time. This update is universal across Google search.
5. This update will be larger than Penguin or Panda
Google’s Zineb Ait Bahajji of the Webmaster Trends team said at SMX Munich on March 17th that the mobile-friendly ranking algorithm will have a larger impact on Google’s search results than either Google Panda or Penguin.
Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land broke the news.
6. The mobile algorithm assesses pages, not sites
The algorithm runs at a page level, same as the “mobile-friendly” label Google is currently using in the search results. If you have limited resources, you should focus on creating mobile-friendly pages for your important pages.
7. Your pages are either mobile-friendly, or they are not.
There are no shades of gray with this algorithm – your pages are either considered mobile-friendly, or they are not.
8. The algorithm runs in real time, updating with each crawl. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly by the 21st, you can recover once your site is mobile-friendly and Google crawls your pages.
9. The update will take a few days to roll out, starting April 21st.
Technical Details of the Google's Mobile Update
These are the more technical details of the update. These are all details that might be worth knowing, depending upon your situation.
1. Test whether your site is mobile-friendly with Google’s “Mobile-Friendly Test” tool.
The mobile-friendly test tool uses the Googlebot (Google’s crawler) and will return results accurate to how the update will affect your site.
2. Responsive, dynamic, and mobile subdomains all work within the mobile update.
Google recommends responsive, since it’s easier to maintain/less likely to be misinterpreted by Google, but all three variations of mobile sites work within Google’s mobile algorithm.
3. Google does not support splitting a single desktop page into multiple mobile pages.
Google doesn’t necessarily advise against it, but they do not support it currently. Rel=canonical and Rel=alternate expects there’s a 1:1 page connection.
4. Google consolidates ranking signals (I.E. links) to both the desktop and mobile version of the page to determine rankings.
5. Sites currently receiving the “mobile-friendly” label in mobile search will be viewed as mobile-friendly in mobile update on April 21st.
Here’s a screenshot of what the “mobile-friendly” label looks like:
6. Desktop and mobile SERPs will look quite different with the release of the mobile update.
How The Mobile Update Will Affect Your Site
So we’ve covered the important facts of the mobile update due April 21st. The real question is, how will it affect your site, specifically?
The impact to your website depends entirely on two factors:
- How much traffic you’re currently receiving from mobile devices in organic search
- Is your site currently mobile friendly?
Step one is determining how much traffic you’re currently receiving from mobile search.
1. Using Google Analytics to Determine Mobile Search Traffic
Let’s look at how to determine if you’re currently receiving mobile organic search traffic. Open Google Analytics, navigate to Audience, Mobile, and then Overview:
As you can see, mobile makes up 13.73% of all Linkarati’s traffic this month. But that’s under All Sessions – don’t forget, this is limited to organic search traffic in Google.
Filtering to Organic Traffic shows us how much of our traffic is mobile devices in search:
135 sessions of our total 6,000 are a direct result of Google mobile search traffic. As you can see, we’re not in a position to worry over much come April 21st.
You can find the potential impact to your site with these same steps.
2. Testing your site for mobile-friendliness. Will it pass the mobile update?
The second, and more important way to ensure you’re not negatively impacted by Google’s mobile update come April 21st is to be sure your site is mobile-friendly.
Not everyone will have the resources to commit their site to being mobile. But if you can, you should. There’s no doubt mobile web usage is growing, and will continue to grow in the coming years.
Google’s thoughtfully provided a tool to test whether your site is mobile friendly, called the “Mobile-Friendly Test.” All you have to do is put your URL into the tool - if your site passes the test, it’s ready for Google’s mobile update.
And that’s all there is to it!
If your site isn't mobile-friendly, and stands significant risk come April 21st, Tom Demers did a good job covering your options over on Search Engine Journal.
Google has made a serious effort to clarify what to expect with the Mobile Update come April 21st. This post is the summation of the facts they’ve shared.
The purpose of the update is to ensure whenever someone searches Google on a mobile device, they’re directed to a website that works on that device.
- This update is specific to mobile. Not desktop or even tablet searches.
- The update is worldwide.
- Google has said it will have a bigger impact than Penguin or Panda.
- The update works at a page level, not site-wide.
- Your pages are either mobile-friendly, or they are not. There is no in-between.
- The algorithm works in real time. As soon as your site is mobile-friendly, and Google crawls it, you’ll be back in mobile search.
- Come April 21st, the update will start to roll out. It will take a few days, up to a week, to fully implement across the world.
Mobile is an ever-increasing trend online. More and more people are using mobile devices as their dedicated internet access point. This is Google’s attempt to serve mobile users the best experience in search.