Google Mobile SEO Update

Written by: Jason Bayless | June 06, 2016

Search engine optimization professionals are forgiven for hearing “SEO update” and pressing the panic button, even if the latest update from Google concerning mobile websites isn’t worthy of such panic. The company has long been known to favor mobile-friendly websites when ranking keyword-targeted search results, and has expressly said that it favors websites that have been specifically designed for viewing on mobile platforms. Even so, the march toward irrelevance for desktop-only web designs has been gradual at best. With its most recent update, that march continues in earnest. A few updates and considerations are worth noting for mobile SEO developers.

Desktop Websites Are Getting the Cold Shoulder

Google has long said that it prefers not to rank desktop websites highly in the results presented to mobile users. Over the past several years, it has made good on its promise to send those desktop-style websites into relative obscurity, pushing them lower than their mobile-friendly counterparts. As of May 2016, that effort continues. The mobile-friendliness of the design, which is just one signal of hundreds used to rank a website, will now be more important than ever.

The mobile-friendly signal was formally added to Google’s algorithm last year. As a new signal, it was introduced with a more forgiving impact on existing search rankings. This year, Google is turning up the heat. Mobile-ready websites will now almost always outrank their desktop-only counterparts. Over time, Google will continue to amplify this effect as it seeks to force website owners to either accommodate the mobile web or become desktop niche players.

For site administrators who already have created a mobile experience, this update could mean ranking above a desktop-only competitor for the first time. Those without a mobile-friendly website should either start designing one or get comfortable on page two of search results.

Creating the Mobile Experience: What to Know

Website administrators who have so far resisted the trend toward embracing mobile devices with a mobile-friendly design should start familiarizing themselves with Google’s guidelines. While the company welcomes all kinds of mobile-ready sites, including separate mobile sites, adaptive designs, and responsive designs, Google’s engineers have a clear preference for the responsive style of mobile design.

Responsive designs adjust the number of columns of a single website based on the screen size and width that they detect upon loading. This means Google only has to crawl a single website, instead of crawling variations for every mobile device and desktop environment imaginable. It’s easy to see why Google would prefer responsive efforts over others. In fact, it’s plausible that a future mobile SEO update may prioritize responsive designs over adaptive and standalone efforts. It might be a good idea to get on board with a responsive effort in order to truly coincide with Google’s algorithm and long-term goals.

AMP: Not Yet a Ranking Factor

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the Google AMP service is not yet a signal used to rank websites in mobile search results. The AMP feature, designed to increase page loading speeds quite significantly, can contribute to overall SEO performance due to the improved performance of a website. As of May 2016, however, the algorithm will not actively punish or promote websites in search results based on their use of the service or lack thereof. This is one more thing that SEO professionals should keep an eye on as Google’s mobile preferences and SEO guidelines evolve in the future.

A Big Change for Desktop-Only Websites

Desktop-only websites are becoming obsolete, and Google is the primary driver behind that significant change. Going forward, websites that don’t accommodate mobile devices will simply not be presented to users who are using a smartphone or some smaller tablets. To combat this needed, but perhaps alarming change, website administrators will need to pick up the pace on adopting responsive, mobile-friendly design as a key part of their SEO strategy.