Google is About to Optimize for Mobile

by: David Lumb

Google is the undisputed king of Internet search, accounting for 75% of searches in the U.S. and a staggering 90% of those in the European Union—so dominant that the EU is set to sue Google for allegedly prioritizing search in its interests. That’s why you should pay attention when Google switches up how it ranks sites in search, which the tech titan is about to do again when it updates its algorithm on April 21: According to Search Engine Land, mobile-friendly sites are going to rise to the top when users search from mobile devices.

While the update is specific to mobile searches, they account for 30% of total searches on the web, enterprise platform SEO Clarity said in a presentation at SMX West last month—and that number is steadily increasing. Last November, Google started attaching a helpful “mobile-friendly” label on certain websites during mobile searches—but a recent Google Webmaster Central post points out that the upcoming algorithm update will also change the “mobile-friendly” tag, which will be applied on a page-by-page basis. This will lead to the algorithm prioritizing pages that are optimized for mobile over others, even within the same site. However, it won’t penalize the site as a whole, Google engineer Gary Illyes said at SMX West.

The algorithm update will also review a site’s mobile-friendliness in real time, so newly mobile-optimized sites should get the “mobile-friendly” tag sooner than before, Illyes said at SMX West. But the algorithm update will also throw a bone to sites that have partner apps: Users actively signed in to those apps will see pages from the partnered site ranked higher. Those partner apps must be indexed first, however. (Here are Google’s instructions to index apps).

If you don’t know the upheaval that follows the animal-named updates of Google’s search engine algorithm, you haven’t been paying attention. Google’s Panda update in 2011 raised rankings of sites with quality content while burying those with lots of advertising, which CNet noted had instantly raised the profile of social media and news websites. Additionally, Google’s Penguin update in 2012 sunk the rankings of sites that engaged in blatant search engine optimization tactics.

We can take some comfort that Google forewarns the Internet when a new search algorithm age is upon us—and how it will change results. (Facebook, for example, is notorious for inciting bedlam with its algorithm changes, forcing brands and content outlets to frantically adjust as their traffic from Facebook plummets.) Concerned webmasters can check their sites via Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and review mobile-viewing issues with Google’s Mobile Usability Report, which Google has nested in its webmaster tools and should be available to those who sign in with their Google account.

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