Google’s announcement at the end of February that it would begin to factor mobile usability into search rankings has already spurred quite a lot of activity, as website designers and search engine optimizers have rushed to bring websites up to Google standards before the new mobile ranking algorithm is implemented April 21.
But the change could be even more significant than originally anticipated, as Zineb Ait Bahajji from the Webmaster Trends team reportedly said at the Search Marketing Expo in Munich last week that the new algorithm will have a bigger impact on Google search results than either the Panda or Penguin updates did.
Panda, which launched in 2011, is the algorithm that attempts to adjust the ranking of websites in search results based on their quality. Penguin, launched in 2012, is designed to demote sites that use unnatural backlinks in an effort to artificially inflate search rankings.
It is unclear exactly what Bahajji meant by the comment, which was relayed to the public via a tweet from conference attendee Aleyda Solis. Panda affected about 12% of all English Google searches, and Penguin impacted approximately 4% of Google queries altogether. Her comment may mean that the new algorithm (which will presumably apply only to searches performed on mobile devices) will affect a greater percentage of queries, or that it will make a larger difference in how the public experiences search results.
Creating Mobile-Friendly Sites
Although Google did not announce until relatively recently that mobile compatibility would be used as a ranking signal, the company has clearly defined its standards for mobile usability for some time now. Mobile-compatible sites should be clear and readable on small screens, require a minimum of zooming or clicking, and load quickly.
This is not the first time that Google has used its clout in the search engine market to pressure websites toward practices deemed preferable for the majority of searchers. Google is generally estimated to have between 65% and 70% of the global search market. According to the latest numbers, released by comScore on March 17, Google has just shy of 65% of the U.S. desktop search market, but is even more dominant in mobile searches.
It’s thought that approximately 50% of all Google searches are performed on mobile devices.
Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land summed up the issue, saying the bottom line is that all business owners relying on web traffic for leads need to understand the importance of complying with Google’s mobile usability standards before the new algorithm goes into effect: “The big takeaway from this is that if your site is not mobile-friendly, get to work now on it,” he wrote March 17. “If 50% of your traffic from Google comes from mobile devices, it sounds like if you are not mobile-friendly that virtually all of that traffic from mobile is at huge risk.”