On April 21, Google rolled out another potentially game-changing update for webmasters. Dubbed “Mobilegeddon,” the update caused the world’s top search engine to prioritize websites that pass Google’s criteria for “mobile-friendliness.” In other words, if your website can’t “snap” itself to fit a phone’s tiny screen, or a mobile visitor has to do a significant amount of resizing and scrolling to view your site, there’s a good chance your site will be penalized.
So far, definite conclusions about Mobilegeddon’s actual impact can’t be drawn yet. It’s only been a few weeks since its release, and that’s not enough time to measure the update’s long-term effects on website rankings. However, the preliminary impact on websites – top-ranked or otherwise – is still worth looking into.
On April 25, SearchMetrics.com released a data set on websites possibly affected by Mobilegeddon. The effects were measured using two factors: changes in mobile SEO visibility, and ratio of a website’s performance on mobile vis-à-vis its performance on desktop computers. Since SearchMetrics’ data is preliminary, it would be inaccurate to simply rank the websites based on the percentage lost/gained in terms of visibility. Therefore, only the most notable examples will be used to illustrate the points in this article.
TV Tropes, a top resource for fiction writers and pop culture fans alike, has recently been re-designed for mobile users. As a result, it gained 420 percent more visibility as of April 25.
The same goes for sites like Washington Times, MacMillan Dictionary and New Republic, which gained 21, 17 and 15 percent, respectively.
Interestingly, some of the largest winners don’t have mobile-friendly interfaces at all. Stem Fire and EMS, for instance, struck out three times on Google’s test, yet it managed to leap by an astonishing 2072 percent in terms of visibility.
Popular sites like Know Your Meme and Wikimedia.org also ended up on SearchMetrics’ winners list, yet neither of them are mobile-friendly.
Meanwhile, Reddit – billed as “the front page of the Internet” – failed Google’s test, losing 27 percent visibility after the update.
Unsurprisingly, Reddit released a responsive version of its site the same day the update was rolled out.
Many of the sites on the losers list, such as UK publication Financial Times, quotable quotes resource Think Exist and job search site Jobs.net also failed the test. A few, however, lost visibility despite being mobile-friendly, like Upworthy (shown below).
Other sites that pass the mobile-friendly test, but fail the visibility test, include Interview Magazine, Tested.com and YoungMoney.com.
As mentioned earlier, SearchMetrics’ data is tentative, and therefore captures only part of the picture. If we’re going to start drawing conclusions from that, one thing is clear: A site’s mobile-friendliness is an important factor for ranking on search engines – but it’s not the only factor.
Let’s take Washington Times and Financial Times, for instance. Since 56 percent of adult Americans access the news via mobile, it makes sense that mobile-friendly online publications will have better traction with readers. The easier it is to read a publication, the more likely a reader will browse through it, and the higher the traffic that publication will gain.
On the other hand, sites like Know Your Meme and Wikimedia already enjoyed a huge amount of traffic prior to Mobilegeddon. Assuming they continue to serve their purpose in the way that visitors have always loved (KYM is a treasure trove of Internet memes, while Wikimedia is a convenient source of free media), they will stay on top – whether they become mobile-friendly in the near future or not.
As for the non-mobile friendly sites on the losers list, it’s not surprising why they lost the way they did. What’s surprising is the performance of the mobile-friendly ones. Why would an otherwise high-traffic, responsive site like Upworthy lose traction? Is it because they happened to have a low number of hits/search queries on the day SearchMetrics conducted its analysis? Perhaps.
It’s interesting that, unlike the winners, none of the losers experienced three-digit (or four-digit) changes in their mobile SEO visibility. This might mean that sites which haven’t become mobile-friendly yet won’t experience heavy penalties (at least, for the time being). Also, there’s a large gap between the smallest winner (Topix at 11 percent) and the largest one (New Mexico Criminal Law at 4012 percent).
Then again, the sites should be analyzed on an apples-to-apples basis. For example, it doesn’t make sense to directly compare Topix with New Mexico Criminal Law, since they each serve different audiences. When using visibility to measure your site’s performance, be sure to use competitor sites as benchmarks.
In any case, the data shouldn’t be considered final. Since Google verifies a site’s mobile-friendliness every time it’s crawled and indexed, the abovementioned rankings will still change. That means webmasters can still catch up and optimize their sites further, even after April 21.
Regardless of what the experts say, it’s still a good idea to make your site mobile-friendly, or risk falling by the wayside for being outdated. Although this tactic won’t work miracles by itself, it will at least make your site more visible for your intended visitors. Also, remember to take into account other factors that can affect your ranking, such as your visitors’ general browsing habits.
Above all, good business sense should be the foremost consideration – whether your company is a brick-and-mortar establishment, or a digital juggernaut. While re-designing your website, remember to improve your social media presence, provide high-quality content, and continue to develop your product/service at the same time. That way, your mobile-friendly website will only be the beginning of your campaign’s – and your company’s – success.