Rumours of a Google update always leads to some panic and consternation in the online community but this latest one feels a bit different. With Google gearing up for a mobile friendly update that could see massive changes occur in the rankings of mobile friendly, and not so friendly sites, there is a lot for people to take on board. As is usually the case with Google, there has been very little confirmed as of yet but these are the things that you need to know about the Google mobile friendly update.
What changes are Google likely to make to their algorithm on the 21st of April 2015?
Google have been making a number of changes in recent times including changes to their apps on Google, changes to the way that mobile SERPS are presented and changes to the way that some of the more advanced development guidelines impact on mobile usage. This has led many experts to believe that the changes taking place in April relate to mobile usage and they will follow on from the recent alterations that have been made.
Google have been quick to minimise the importance of some of these recent changes, and while it is difficult to say what will happen with these changes, these events are likely to occur:
Some of the sites known to use Responsive Design in a single-page app structure include Techcrunch.com, Hulu.com, The Google Play store and Pinterest.
Unsure what Responsive Design is? Watch this video.
It is also believed, as stated by Rob Ousbey from Distilled, that Google has been working on this style of layout on Blogspot.com, which is owned by Google.
Google is also said to have been working towards increasing the number of feeds that come from Trusted Partners. This is a crucial component of mobile apps and single-page web apps. If Google are to introduce a mobile-only index, alongside their new crawler, this would be a sensible move for a number of reasons. Google is looking to rank and index app content and deep links but it doesn’t want this to bleed into the algorithm that is set up for desktops or impact with content that wouldn’t rank on a search by users on a desktop. It is likely that the recent announcements about the automated and manual review process of Google Play are linked to the forthcoming changes.
The fact that Google has created a crawler that can crawl through Android apps with the ability to index multiple web-pages or app screen data sets is likely to have an impact as well. Having the chance to crawl through the feeds will provide Google with a greater opportunity to understand the content of the app without having to crawl the app code. With respect to developing an understanding of what is popular and why something is popular, the more context that can be added, the better. Being able to rely on feeds will also provide Google with the opportunity to obtain data directly and place it into SERPS.
One thing that is interesting to note from the new focus on being mobile friendly is the fact that Google has avoided some of their long-standing focus areas for SEO on mobiles. There isn’t really any focus on mobile page speeds, mobile only errors and being able to minimise redirects, all things which have bene hugely important for Google in the past. Of course, Google is well known for continually tweaking and altering their algorithms so while these aspects may not be too prominent at first, they could become more important at a later date.
Will a mobile friendly site improve my desktop ranking?
This question was answered with a quick and resounding NO from Zineb at a recent SMX Munich event. This means that many experts are taking the new index as being quite separate from the one that provides desktop results. This may mean that some site owners will not be too concerned about the forthcoming changes but there is a lot to be said for making your site as mobile friendly as possible. Even if you have the stats to back up the fact that a great deal of your users visit your site on a desktop, the way that people access and use the internet is evolving and changing rapidly. Making sure your site is as mobile friendly as possible makes sense. The thing with Google is, they are prone to change and adapt quickly so while having a good mobile site may not impact on your desktop search rankings today, who knows what impact it may have tomorrow.
What extent will mobile rankings be impacted on?
At the same panel in Munich, Zineb stated that these changes will be bigger than the Panda and Penguin updates. When you think about the difficulties many users had with these changes, it is understandable that this will cause panic and concern amongst many users. However, this response can be taken in many ways and a number of experts believe that the extent of the change relates to the infrastructural impact. While no one is too sure what sort of impact will occur on Android and iOS devices, it is believed that more significant changes will occur on Android devices.
One area of difference and distinction between the two devices will come with deep linking and at the moment, SERPS are only able to display deep links from Android apps and devices but it is believed that this changing. Justin Briggs noted on Moz and at SMX West that a number of deep links from an iOS device were being validated in the deep link tool from Google. Again, this may be a change that comes at a later date as opposed to this month but it is of interest to note that Google is working towards this change. There is also uncertainty over whether Google classifies tablet devices as mobiles or desktop, with tablets always having been more like desktops for Google, but it does appear as though Android tablets are now being classified under the mobile bracket. This could be another change that comes into play on the 21st of April.
There is also expected to be a focus on emails with mobile email opens having increased by 130% in the past three years and it is believed that Google is keen to make the most of this heightened level of engagement on mobile devices. Google is able to crawl emails that come into your email account and many experts believe that the new algorithm change will allow for a greater sense of personalised search results to be provided, with a lot of this down to the knowledge that Google is obtaining of its users from crawling emails.
Will sites that redirect to a mobile sub-domain be referred to as mobile friendly?
After the initial roll-out of mobile friendly tagging took place, there was a notable increase in the rankings of sites that held the mDot (‘m,’) status. There has also been a notable reduction in the supportive comments from Google representatives with respect to the importance of responsive design. There hasn’t been any criticism or complaints about responsive design but there has been a greater level of acceptance that other mobile site structures retain value and benefit.
How will I know if my site is deemed to be mobile friendly for Google?
There is an easy to use tool created by Google which provides a YES or NO answer as to whether a URL is friendly for mobile users. Given that pages are evaluated on a page by page basis, it is possible to carry out a search for your site, where you can query for the relevant domain on your mobile device. This will provide you with a listing of the pages indexed for the domain, allowing you to see pages which are deemed to be mobile friendly and which are not.
Google has been adamant that the results are either mobile friendly or not mobile friendly. There are no shades of grey or middle ground here, which removes ambiguity but may not provide context with respect to how friendly or unfriendly your site is. The results of the mobile friendly evaluations are carried out instantly, offering instant feedback and the result will only change if there has been a change of result.
Does having a mobile app impact on the mobile ranking I receive?
Firstly, if mobile searches are correlated with the listings for mobile apps, it makes sense that your app will be highly visible in the pages for mobile search results. With Google now viewing apps as part of a universal search, as can be seen with App Packs* being listed in certain searches undertaken by Android users and an Apps drop-down section having been added to the main navigational bar on iOS devices, it is clear that Google is paying more attention to apps.
*An App Pack is a number of apps that have been grouped together and which rank collectively for a particular query. These App Packs are presented close to the top of mobile search results and there appears to be correlation between the promotion of App Packs and the reviews that they have received.
If Google begins to place these App Packs on iOS devices, you will likely see apps with a keyword optimised title and positive reviews ranking very highly, perhaps even pushing previously highly ranked mobile websites down the organic listings.
The importance of high quality apps was also highlighted by Mariya Moeva (a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst) at SMX West. This could be taken in a number of ways but it would suggest that deep links between your own website and app will positively impact on your site ranking when mobile searches are carried out. Deep links connect to a specific screen with the app, and although they look like a standard link, they will provide users with the option of opening this link in the app or on the web.
There is also the option for Android mobile app users to have their deep links associated with content matching webpages, and this will enable Google to recognise the connection between web content and app content. At the moment, this is only possible through a convoluted process, so this will help to make the ability to connect your web and app based pages in a much simpler manner. While there was no formal announcement on how Google will determine the high quality of an app, it is believed that reviews, star ratings and +1s will all have a part to play in helping Google evaluate the quality of apps.
Do I need to have an app and if yes, should it be iOS, Android or both? What should I do if I have a limited budget?
If you have an unlimited budget, creating mobile apps and a mobile website makes sense but of course, who has an unlimited budget? There is value in having both, especially if you use them to leverage and add value as opposed to replicating what is on offer on both. While you may think that this is a decision to make from an SEO stance, it is probably best to consider your choice from a business stance. The nature of your business may suggest that a mobile app or a mobile site is better for you, and if you are on a budget, this is the one that you should go for.
You will likely find that the majority of businesses will benefit from focusing on their mobile site first, which should receive most of your budget and focus at first. You should only really consider a mobile app if the experience your site provides is something that is difficult to offer from a mobile site, such as apps that utilise GPS or accelerometers or which are based around photo editing or are provide heavy-gaming opportunities.
It should be seen that an app is riskier because it involves more investment, especially up-front, and you need to ensure that you comply with the regulations and requirements of the app store. With a number of barriers to entry, it may be simpler to put your mobile app on hold and focus on your mobile site.
If you are going ahead with a mobile app, you should look to utilise the operating system data found in Google Analytics to determine which OS is most commonly used by your users. If you have a user base that is predominantly one OS over the user, you used base your decision on which app to build on this information. Another strategy to take is creating an app that best ties in with your monetization strategy. Research indicates that iOS users tend to spend more money than Android owners but there are a greater number of Android users around the world. If you are looking to make money through In-App Purchases (IAPs) or subscriptions, iOS users may be best but if you are keen to make money from advertisers, opting for an Android app may be the best option.
Is mobile traffic impacted by users searching? How do I found out if my top keywords are desktop or mobile keywords?
It has been found that search queries are increasingly important for mobile devices because Google is placing a focus on attempting to anticipate what a user intends to do with their query. It has been known for Google to offer information directly to the user above the organic results, which means that there is a greater opportunity to be placed in front of users.
This has been commonly used for local mobile searches, so SEO experts have been aware of this capability for a while, but it is becoming a more regular feature on mobile devices from Google. Google is able to scrape a lot more information and detail from websites and place it into an answer box, and this is especially the case on mobile devices. Many users have found that top answers to queries relating to flights, hotels, music and even TV shows are placed at the top of the screen and organic results are now being pushed below the fold.
There has also been a rise in the number of PPC results being placed in front of the user and this may become an important tool in trying to outrank Google and be placed above the fold. With respect to what keywords come from mobile users and what come from desktop users, this can be a difficult task. Basic information can be obtained utilising Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools to filter your keyword information to only show mobile queries, which may give you an initial understanding of any difference. There are also solutions like Brightedge or Search Metrics which offer a sophisticated solution but may be beyond the budget of most firms.
What is Google trying to achieve with the mobile friendly changes?
It is likely that Google have a number of goals in mind but ultimately, they are looking to create a better experience for mobile users. Of course, they can do that and make a lot more money for themselves, so depending on your viewpoint or how cynical you are, it may be that everything Google is doing is based around drawing in more income, which may see users benefiting from improved services.
If Google can rank apps in searches, they will likely benefit from increases sales and traffic for Google Play, which is involved in a highly competitive marketplace. Providing a better user experience and improving their own market position are not mutually exclusive aims and if Google is keen to continually develop and push Google Play, improving the experience for mobile users may be an effective way of achieving their aims.
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