Google seems to be “all in” lately with big changes. At SMX West last week, Gary Illyes discussed changes to Google’s ranking algorithm for mobile devices.  Here’s the big take home from last and recent weeks from Google:

Big Google search changes 2015


April 21 is a ‘very important date’

Google has announced a date for making existing sites mobile friendly. According to Illyes, “April 21st is a very important day.” There will be increased weight given to the mobile-friendliness of websites: “This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, similar to past updates focusing on content quality, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices. Have sites ready by the 21st and [they] will be good. As soon as Google discovers the site is mobile friendly, it will be updated.”  Following this rollout, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

Site testing tools to help

If you’ve been putting off optimizing your website, we’d strongly encourage you to update it now. Once April 21 arrives, you may be left dealing with a significant drop in ranking and traffic. And recovery will likely be more difficult than preparing now.
There are plenty of testing tools to help:

  • If you want to test a few pages, you can use the Mobile-Friendly Test.
  • If you have a site, you can use Webmaster Tools to get a full list of usability issues across your site using the Mobile Usability Report.
  • If it’s not already, make sure your website displays properly on mobile using responsive design or a separate mobile site – although with the latter, take precautions to avoid creating duplicate content.
  • Avoid the some common mistakes, including:
    • Blocking of key files such as JavaScript, CSS and images. Check your robots.txt file to ensure access.
    • Inaccessible files or content.
    • Incorrect redirects. Think user experience here.
    • Using mobile-only 404′s to hybrid a mobile site.
    • Incorrect cross-linking. Same note regarding user experience.
    • Slow mobile (or non-mobile) pages. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to ensure things are speedy fast for your users.

A good “fetch and render” in Webmaster Tools should help Google rediscover and index faster once you’ve addressed any issues. April 21st is right around the corner so it’s time to hop to it.

Responsive is good but it doesn’t change rank

It’s no secret, Google favors responsive design, probably because it provides a better user experience. Gary Illyes says they recommend responsive design because it works for Google, but responsive won’t change rank and isn’t the only solution. He says ‘mobile sites will do fine’, so long as they’re mobile optimized.

So why the change? The mobile market is exploding, and with it, many are incorporating responsive web design. As more adopt the responsive approach, the web industry will be challenged with understanding how to create and maintain responsive and accessible user experiences.

Googlebot needs to crawl

Your site won’t pass as mobile friendly even if everything else is sparkling clean if it blocks the crawling of CSS and Javascript. Make sure these files are crawl-friendly.

Mobile isn’t just for the homepage

Google takes all pages into consideration and gauges mobile friendliness on a page by page basis. All pages, meaning the entire responsive or mobile site, should be mobile friendly.

The future holds a separate mobile index

Illyes said Google has a team working on separate mobile indexes, although there is nothing to announce at this time.

HTTPS: The time is now

From Illyes’ Google + page today, a recent small Google analysis showed more than 80% of the HTTPS URLs eligible for indexing can’t become canonical because website owners aren’t telling Google about them. E.g. these sites are using HTTP rather than HTTPS in their sitemap files, in the rel-canonical and rel-alternate-hreflang elements. “If your site supports HTTPS, please do tell us: use HTTPS URLs everywhere so search engines can see them!”

More relevant app content in search results

From Google Webmaster Central Blog, effective Feb 26, 2015, Google will begin using information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed.

So many changes on the horizon for search, mobile, local and accessibility that it’s hard to keep up if you aren’t following it on a daily basis. It’s good to have a digital agency on your side who is.

Let us know if we can help.