Everything You Need To Know About Google's 21st April Mobile-Friendly Update

When a Google update can trash your entire online presence overnight, there is no real surprise that rumours around Google's update relating to mobile friendly websites is causing genuine unrest. As with everything relating to Google updates it's vital that you cut through the rubbish to clearly understand what you need to do, or not do.

In this article I'm going to tell you everything you need to know about Google's mobile friendly update so that you can begin the process of putting your mind at rest and reacting right now.

What Are The Changes Google Is Making To Its Algorithm?

Desktop is dying and is being replaced in the home by tablets and laptops. The future of the Internet lays in mobile and it's this consumer shift which Google is looking to address.

The background to this update is that last year search results started appearing with the term "Mobile friendly" next to them. A few industry people also spotted that some search results were also being labelled with the word "Slow".

It appears this was the beginning of the process that has led up to the mobile-friendly update. Websites were starting to be analysed as either being mobile friendly, or not. Once the benchmarks had been clarified, Google felt confident in rolling out guidelines ready for a full update.

Recently the search giant has also been rolling out changes to its apps, the Google Play platform and guidelines for developers in relation to mobile. On top of that, the presentation of some SERPs has also been changing recently, especially on mobile devices, as Google pulls in real-world data prior to its update on 21 April 2015.

My best guess is that Google will launch a completely new mobile web crawler, probably with an Android user agent. The aim of this will be to better crawl mobile specific architecture that makes heavy use of languages such as Java and JavaScript, as well as defining clearly if the site is mobile friendly or not.

How Will This Update Affect The Search Engine Results Pages?

Well, it appears that a completely different mobile-only Google search result will be delivered to users on mobile devices. This could essentially mean two different Google's, one for mobile users and one for everybody else.

The aim of this would be to deliver a more mobile-friendly search result than currently. If you search using desktop Google you will no longer receive results linking to mobile apps for example, while the new mobile friendly search results will probably be more in tune with on the move searching, such as local search based around your physical location

What You Need To Do To Get Into Google's Mobile Search Results

You probably already guessed, but having a mobile friendly website is the key here.

If your website is currently not a responsive design, that resizes and simplifies when necessary depending on the device and resolution, then you should be looking at investing in this right now.

On top of that, the site needs to be fast loading. This means making sure images are optimised, scripts and inline code are minimised or eradicated and making use of a CDN where possible.

Another thing the update will be looking for is simplified navigation. Google Webmaster tools is already highlighting webpages that it has crawled and has decided are not simplified enough, in navigation terms, for mobile users.

More complex menus, or small menus, that would be difficult for a mobile user to click on using their fingers or thumbs are now being highlighted in your Webmaster tools account.

I would suggest that in terms of your future strategy you should be looking at a single website that is simplified and responsive across all device types. It is far more expensive to try and develop parallel desktop and mobile friendly websites, so this Google update should be seen as an incentive to unify your future development.

Mobile friendly website test
Mobile friendly website test

How Can I Check If My Website Is Ready For Google's Mobile-Friendly Update?

There is a tool (available here) that you can use to check all the pages of your website for mobile friendliness.

Simply enter the URL and it will either tell you the pages mobile friendly, or it will return a list of the things you need to do to achieve that.

From that you can create a development plan to address the issues right across your website in a cost-effective manner.

It's Not Time To Worry About Your Core Search Engine Rankings.....Yet!

Google's Zineb Ait Bahajji, from the Webmaster Trends team, was quoted as saying at SMX Munich that the mobile friendly update would have more of an impact on the search results than the Penguin or Panda updates.

This has been at the heart of the panic. But what he was referring to was current mobile search results, not all search results. So it's vital to understand that the mobile friendly update will only affect the existing mobile search results.

If your website has ten pages and five pass the criteria for being mobile friendly, then they will potentially benefit while the others do not.  This is a vital point – it is going to be done on a page-by-page basis and, importantly, in real time.

So it won't be like Penguin, where a penalty lasted until the next update. Change the page structure, submit it for indexing and benefit when it passes the mobile friendly criteria.

But the takeaway is not to be complacent and definitely not to sit back and await developments.

A full mobile friendly algorithm is coming and it will be delivered to mobile device users. This means at some stage there will be a complete separation of Google's search results.

People are familiar with responsive design and enjoy the simpler navigation it brings. Don't see it as dumbing down of your online presence, see it as addressing the modern Internet users needs and get on-board now.

If you have any concerns about the mobile-friendliness of your website, get in touch today to see how we can help.