Mobile Working

Why Mobilegeddon didn't live up to its name

In this contributed article, Simon Schnieders, Head of SEO at CV-Library and former Head of SEO of Zoopla and Mail Online, explains the hype around Google's latest mobile update, how it has failed webmasters and why Google needs to clearly define its strategy.


We've heard it all before – we live in an on-demand world where consumers want to access information here and now, no matter their location. But for webmasters this has meant investing time and money to make sure their sites provide the best possible user experience and are mobile-friendly, whatever the device.

Until recently though, organic ranking in Google mobile results meant those with unresponsive or non-mobile friendly sites haven't been penalised. This has meant that, so long as their overall SEO strategy was top notch, Google was happy to continue to rank responsive or 'm dot' and unresponsive sites on equal measure. However, it seemed that this was all set to change in February this year, when Google announced its ploy to encourage websites to become 'Mobile Friendly'.

Enter what quickly became known, in anticipation, as Mobilegeddon. This was a drive termed by Google as 'Mobile Madness' that vowed to impose significant implications to any websites that continue to resist the mobile world. Ultimately, Google wanted to improve the experience for users on Google mobile.

The number of people who conduct their searches on mobiles and tablets is constantly increasing. Google officially announced in early May 2015 that more searches take place on smartphones than on computers (including tablets) in 10 countries including the US and Japan. Recent data from communications regulator Ofcom says UK smartphones continue to influence how people go online both at home and elsewhere. Almost six in ten of us (59%) use a smartphone to go online at home while 51% use a smartphone outside of the home; Google itself advised that since its announcement in February, there has already been a 4.7% increase in the proportion of sites that are mobile-friendly, thus showing the incredible power it wields in influencing the web. So, it's all good, right? Read on…


Setting expectations

When Google made its announcement, web professionals were advised to gear up for seismic shifts. Mobile-friendly sites were promised a significant increase in search traffic, while those that didn't adhere risked dropping off the face of the Earth (or, Google at least). This put a tremendous amount of pressure on webmasters to ensure they were ready for the change. Without preparation, non-mobile-friendly sites that had previously depended on high-volumes of organic traffic from Google were warned that they would see a significant drop, threatening their revenue streams.

However, some held a guarded view. Those that experienced the non-event of 'https as a ranking signal' in August 2014, and the idea of 'site speed as a ranking factor' before that, were more reserved with their expectations, suggesting that Mobilegeddon could be another failed attempt of Google's to form a Google-shaped web.

Despite that though, the associated risks of not adhering to the change weren't worth taking and most invested time and money in bringing their sites into the 'mobile mad' century.


Failing to deliver

As one of the UK's leading online job boards that provides a fully responsive website, CV-Library was relatively optimistic: 48% of our organic SEO traffic already enters the site via mobile and tablet devices and that number continues to increase. In February, Google advised that the update would have a “significant impact in our search results”. Given that we have been mobile-prepared for many months, we expected to see a positive impact: especially considering a number of our competitors were still dragging their heels on adopting mobile-friendly sites.

Of course, it didn't take long before Google played its 'get out of jail free card'. Weeks after the original announcement, the search giant issued a subsequent blog post, which read: "While the mobile-friendly change is important, we still use a variety of signals to rank search results.” Disappointing.

As the update launched on 21 April, 2015 we eagerly awaited the results. And waited. And waited….


We waited some more and patiently sat back through the course of 'roll out' week…

Still nothing.

What we did observe, however, was that non-mobile sites such as Universal Jobmatch maintained their first-page mobile visibility for queries such as "Job search" or on simple terms like "Jobs in Whitehaven". Not quite the 'significant impact' Google promised.

Sadly, this kind of result isn't limited to our industry, with webmasters and search professionals across the globe calling the 'update' somewhat contrived.


What next?

First and foremost, Google needs to be truthful. When a search giant announces that its downstream traffic to your site will be significantly affected by an algorithmic change then that needs to be true. These announcements will have a direct impact on revenues for most webmasters, so it is essential that they are clear on exactly what needs to be done and what can be expected in return.

At the moment, Google is breeding an unhealthy relationship between itself and webmasters, now full of doubt and distrust. Thrice now, web professionals have been told to gear up for a significant change, only to find little or no impact and then be advised that the updates are merely part of a variety of signals.

While there's no doubt that general internet and Google users see the benefits of the changes we make for traffic benefit, many websites and businesses are left scratching their heads, seeing no indication of a long-term strategy. Very few webmasters would place having a secure website before being mobile friendly on a product prioritisation backlog.

It's time for Google to be clear with webmasters on a strategic vision and with a less divisive approach so that all parties can work together effectively.

One thing is certain: any future announcements from Google around ranking factors are likely to be approached with much greater caution.


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