SEO

The Google Mobile Update and You

Google has rolled out another significant update to its algorithm, the rules it uses to determine the rankings of websites in the search results.

The “mobile friendly” update went live on 21 April of this year, and it is designed to give a boost to mobile-friendly web pages in the Google mobile search results.

More than 50% of all searches on Google take place on a mobile device. This update does not effect desktop or tablet searches. Instead, it’s designed to address websites that offer a poor mobile experience, with such features as small text, horizontal scrolls, or unplayable Flash content.

This update was known as “mobilegeddon”. After Google announced it, search marketing professionals predicted that sites would disappear from the search results, and that mobile traffic to non-mobile friendly web pages would collapse.

How Did the Google Mobile Update Affect Law Firms?

With law firms in the UK typically getting 30% or more of their web traffic from Google’s mobile search, this update could have potentially catastrophic consequences for firms who depend on Google traffic for their business lifeblood.

What is particularly interesting about this update was the virtually unprecedented manner in which Google warned of the upcoming update, including the exact launch date, and with specific instructions on the steps businesses need to take in order to avoid penalties. And if Google’s wish was to spur businesses into creating websites that are accessible on mobile devices, then the evidence suggests that many businesses took the desired action: Google reported a 4.7% uplift in the number of mobile friendly sites in the two months leading up to the mobilegeddon launch date.

However, the impact of this Google update does not seem to be as dramatic as the “experts” predicted. There was no apocalyptic change in search rankings, and no crash and burn in the search results. While there were some significant changes in rankings and traffic, this update did not have the far reaching consequences of previous Google updates known as Panda and Penguin.

Research results following the mobilegeddon rollout are mixed. BrightEdge monitored 20,000 URLs  across 750 key phrases, and their research demonstrated a 21% decrease in the number of non-mobile friendly URLs in the first three pages of the mobile search results as compared to before the update.

On the other hand, MOZ reported that prior to mobilegeddon, 71% of the sites ranking in mobile results were already mobile friendly. They suggest that businesses should be worried about other, more significant changes.

The power of the brand of any particular website is unlikely to outweigh all other factors when it comes to rankings.  For example, the British Monarchy website fails the Google Mobile Friendly testing, but I can’t imagine it won’t rank well in the mobile results:

Google Mobile Update Google Mobile Update

Nevertheless, there is evidence of swings in the search results, and there are important lessons here for all UK law firms.

For example, the rankings in the mobile search results are on a page by page basis. Your firm is likely to rank in the search results for a specific phrase, such as “enduring power of attorney.” Rather than worrying about the mobile friendliness of your homepage, you need to keep an eye on the mobile-friendliness of the specific landing page that currently ranks well on Google.

Digital marketing agency Stickeyes produced an interesting piece of research assessing British Airway’s mobile friendliness and the impact of mobilegeddon. BA has produced a whole series of landing pages designed to gain rankings for location depending holidays phrases, such as “Dubai holidays.” However, these pages are not optimised for a mobile experience, and subsequent to the mobileggedon update, BA experienced a significant drop in mobile rankings:

Google Mobile Update

One of the difficulties of measuring the impact of Google changing the algorithm is gathering reliable data sets. A survey by Koozai of 100 UK small and medium size businesses following mobilegeddon reported that 41% of respondents has experiencing a drop of at least three places in their mobile rankings. However, more than half of those reporting the drop had actually optimised their website for mobile.

How can this be the case?

The mobilegeddon update was changing just one signal in a whole range of different signals Google considers when ranking websites. These signals, of course, are of varying importance. Many levers are being pulled at the same time, and it can be difficult to attribute which specific change is responsible for a shift in rankings.

While your firm is busy making changes, you can be sure your competitors will be busy making some changes of  their own. On top of that, Google is constantly tweaking the dials. Change will occur frequently, and rather than simply reacting to single well-publicised things such as mobilegeddon, you must be prepared to be flexible enough to weather any change.

For example, instead of mobilegeddon, a more significant factor for your firm to consider is page speed. The speed at which your site loads may be a much more powerful ranking factor than your mobile friendliness.

The Phantom Update

It appears that subsequent to mobilegeddon, Google rolled out another significant change. It’s called the “Phantom”, and it may have had an even more significant impact on your firm’s rankings. It is virtually impossible to unpick the impact of one specific Google update. They happen simultaneously, and they tend to interact with each other.

What is perhaps more interesting is the ever increasing divergence in desktop and mobile search results. While smartphones are gaining more and more computer-like features, mobile search results are starting to differ greatly to desktop results.

There are a number of steps your firm needs to take in order to keep up with the mobile revolution. First, use Google’s testing tool to determine whether your website is considered mobile friendly. This tool also provides detailed recommendations for how your site might be improved.

Next, use Googe’s PageSite Insights tool to check your site’s speed and performance. As well as being crucial mobile ranking factors, these factors have a huge impact on user experience.

Google has identified improving the mobile experience as one of their top priorities. You can therefore expect Google to constantly tweak their mobile friendly algorithm in order to give searchers the best possible experience.

As a result, firms need to continue to focus on the separate desktop and mobile search rankings. The rather underwhelming impact of the mobilegeddon update could mislead firms into complacency, when indeed this just one change in the ever evolving Google algorithm.

Ultimately, we can all be sure of one thing: there are more changes on the way.

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