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Google's Mobile Algorithm Changes

An overview of what you need to know

On February 26th, Google announced that as of April 21st mobile-friendliness will be a ranking factor in mobile natural search results. Google has indicated that there will be significant impact on the search results and that the update will take a week to completely roll-out. This change to Google’s algorithm is a long time coming and should not be a surprise to anyone in digital marketing with the growth and emphasis on mobile in every digital channel.

Mobile Growth

comScore reports that 182 million people in the US owned smartphones as of December 2014. Smartphones have reached 75% penetration in the mobile market. eMarketer has found that 133 million consumers leverage search on their phones. These numbers will only continue to rise. It is projected that by 2019, 215 million people will be leveraging search on smartphones. Smartphones made up 33.7% of ecommerce traffic as of February 2015, so there is a substantial threat to those without a mobile friendly experience.

[keystat number="182M" width="50%" text="Number of people in the US who own smartphones" last="no" align="left"][/keystat][keystat number="33.7%" width="50%" text="Percentage of eCommerce traffic on smartphones, as of February 2015" last="yes" align="right"][/keystat]

Mobile Experience

Mobile optimized websites provide a substantially better user experience. This optimal experience provides improved utility: allowing for easier navigation, research, and conversion. There are many studies that show significant increases in conversion rates with mobile-friendly sites. A NetElixer study of 53 retail clients found that mobile optimized sites increased conversion rates by 160%. Baines & Earnst, a financial services company in the UK, discovered that launching a dedicated mobile page increased visits by 11% while mobile bounce rates decreased by 8%.

What Is Changing

While Google continues to release information about what this algorithm update means for their search engine and websites, there are a few major known takeaways at this time. Below are the major highlights from Google about their mobile algorithm update:

  • “Mobile-friendly” status is based on considerations at a page-by-page level
  • This is a real-time search algorithm — updating a non-mobile page to provide a mobile experience will be picked up by Google’s mobile algorithm once the site is re-crawled after April 21st
  • You are either mobile-friendly or not — There are no degrees of mobile-friendliness in this algorithm

Avoiding Mobile Penalization

Ensure that the mobile version of your site is active and functional.

  • While responsive designs are the most popular and preferred by Google, any kind of mobile experience solution (adaptive design, mobile-specific URLs, mobile-specific websites) are acceptable for this update.
Factors that indicate an experience is NOT mobile-friendly include:
  • Text is too small to read
  • Links are placed too close together
  • Mobile viewport is not set
  • Google has stated that there are no degrees of mobile-friendliness. Your site is either mobile-friendly or it isn’t. Based primarily on the criteria above, Google determines if your website provides a mobile-friendly experience.

Google Resources

Google has provided two great sources of information on how to test and what needs to be done in order to make your site mobile-friendly.


This change will have a substantial impact on both mobile natural search rankings and the customer experience. This change has been a long time coming and will be a positive for consumers looking for an ideal experience in mobile. Finding a desktop experience on your smartphone is always frustrating. Providing a mobile friendly site is nearly a requirement for any business today and will have an impact on performace across all channels, not just natural search. Google likely will continue to refine the mobile algorithm to ensure that every page in the mobile index is intended to be view through a mobile experience.