Calculating the Impact of Mobile Friendly Update

A week before the rollout of the April 21st update, Google’s Zineb Ait Bahajji from the Webmaster Trends team was saw quoting, “the impact of the update would be more than all pandas and penguins taken together”.

More than a month passed since the 21st April update. It’s the time for reality check: the impact of the update and how it’s affecting websites in terms of search result.

Initial reports from our clients and aides in various business sectors are suggesting that the update is nowhere near either Panda or Penguin.

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The influence in Google search results on mobile devices is far less significant, if only, according to them. Nowhere near what speculated by Google.

I still remember the time when the first version of Google Panda was rolled out in the wild. It was catastrophic.

Many sites that were on the top of search results for quite a time, converting hundreds of leads daily, were nowhere to be seen after the rollout. Such was the impact of those updates: Panda and Penguin.

With so much of speculations and Google’s persistent insistence towards the update, marketers were actually scared about the impact, if only “Mobile Friendly Update” is the next Panda or Penguin. So much that many of them worked night and day to go responsive before 21st April.

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It is not hard to differentiate the effect of mobile algorithm update from the regular updates for a search result for a search phrase.

If the search result is losing rank only on mobile search, then it’s an impact of Mobile Friendly Update, otherwise regular updates.

On that idea we tested a few websites, some big, some small, which were not showing “mobile friendly” tag after the rollout.

What we found was not at all surprising.

Although most mobile search results were affected, the impact on individual results was not that noteworthy.

Of all the websites that we tested, only 18% saw drop in mobile search results from the first page.

The worst hit was next.co.uk. Analysing it will give you an idea how adversely this update can effect mobile search results for non-friendly pages.

For the worst-case scenario, losing 4-5 places drop is not a big deal considering Panda made websites lose search ranks in terms of 100 places. Google already made this clear.

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While the mobile-friendly change is important, we still use a variety of signals to rank search results. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal — so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query.

Why Google made such a hype of the update?

Google knew people won’t take its guidelines seriously unless there is a return benefit. Ask any SEO if there is anything makes them happier then a boost in the search rankings. Google, smartly, provided the perfect bait.

Concisely, they deliberately exaggerated the magnitude of the update although for a good cause—to make the internet as mobile-friendly as possible.

However, the endeavour, regardless of the motto–to incentivise websites into migrating to mobile-friendly platforms–didn’t went very well.

Google had to clarify its stand later:

“The lack of impact may have also been due to a significant number of websites migrating to mobile-friendly websites following their announcement of the mobile update”, a Googler, who has also worked on the update, clarified.

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Weighting of the mobile ranking factor may be increased through time, so the reasons for moving to a mobile responsive or adaptive design are as strong as ever,” he further added.

Calculating the impact on your website

Like most of the mention examples above, you can too check your website for the impact. Start by isolating the mobile search results– ‘+Add Segment’ from the bar at the top:

Once in Google Analytics account of your website, go to Reporting—>Mobile—>Overview. Now select “+Add Segment—>Technology.

Under Technology, select Device Category as mobile.

Now select Traffic Sources—>Under medium select “organic”.

Save the segment and review the trend as depicted in the generated graph.

The segment can be used for analysing MoM and YoY changes.

For determining the impact, use MoM update of current month to the one before the update rollout.

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The Future

As with other updates, Google will roll out improved iterations for this one too, precisely:

  1. To get better at detecting whether there is a mobile experience or not
  2. Sometimes a mere mobile experience is not enough. Google should start quantifying a mobile experience too.

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