Google is set to refine their mobile search rankings this spring with an initiative that will benefit mobile-friendly businesses. The new algorithm is for mobile devices and will be launched on April 21 on an international scale, affecting over 100 languages. The initiative is to improve the quality of sites that smartphone users come across in mobile search engine results (SERPs). Effectively, if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, it will depreciate in SERPs and lose online traffic. Conversely, those with mobile-friendly sites will be gifted a search ranking boost.
It’s a key announcement as it marks the moment smartphones become integral to businesses across the world. Whilst many have adapted to responsive web design (RWD, which provides an optimal viewing experience for users over a myriad of technology formats), many aren’t as keyed in to mobile. This type of design allows a site’s server to optimise the page so it fits the screen. It’s adaptive design: it looks up the device, finds out the model, and serves the page. Now it will determine mobile search results.
It’s one of those terrifying announcements which will have many businesses scrambling to get their site mobile-friendly. As early as November 2014 it was clear Google were planning a new algorithm; the company posted a blog titled Helping users find mobile-friendly pages. In it they highlight the current problem with mobile sites: “Have you ever tapped on a Google Search result on your mobile phone, only to find yourself looking at a page where the text was too small, the links were tiny, and you had to scroll sideways to see all the content? This usually happens when the website has not been optimized to be viewed on a mobile phone.” As Google point out, this can be frustrating.
Now the company has stated, “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high-quality search results that are optimized for their devices.” The best option isn’t (as with everything in life) to panic, it’s to get proactive. Web designers can work wonders and the deadline for the change isn’t until April 21. Use the time ahead to get creative and deliver an excellent mobile site.
Google have, handily in their official statement from February, provided a number of tools to help sites adapt. These are:
- The Mobile-Friendly Test. It’s a straightforward tool which, free of charge, tests a site and works out if it’s mobile-friendly.
- The second is Get Started. This is a quick-start guide to designing a site for mobile and provides a To-Do list.
It’s important to stress this type of web development isn’t the same as responsive design. The latter allows sites to adapt to numerous different technologies, whilst mobile-friendly is purely for smartphones. As the market is now so lucrative, with tens of millions of users searching Google all the time, making sure your brand keeps up with Google can pay impressive dividends.
Apps in Search Results
Alongside the mobile-friendly announcement, Google promoted their shift towards app-friendly search results. This is already in effect, and depends on which apps a smartphone user has installed.
In their announcement the company said, “We will begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed. As a result, we may now surface content from indexed apps more prominently in search.” The Get Started link can help implement this on your site.
Ranking Based on Accuracy of Information
In addition to their mobile SERPs overhaul, there is the possibility that Google will based future desktop search rankings on factual accuracy. A report, courtesy of NewScientist, surfaced on February 28 regarding Google’s future plans. The detailed essay Knowledge-Based Trust: Estimating the Trustworthiness of Web Sources [PDF] (which possibly rules out Wikipedia) proposes that websites could eventually be ranked based on the quality of facts, rather than links.
The site states, “A Google research team is adapting that model to measure the trustworthiness of a page, rather than its reputation across the web. Instead of counting incoming links, the system—which is not yet live—counts the number of incorrect facts within a page.” Obviously, if your site is bursting with inaccurate information, it will plummet down the rankings. Once again this change would initiate a push towards greater content quality. Despite the vast amount of wonderful and educational information online, there’s also an exorbitant amount of complete nonsense. The plan is to get the latter to nosedive down SERPs, and everyone can help themselves along by ensuring they’re as factual as possible.
One of the key problems online remains attestable sources. It’s far too easy to pin a quote to a notable figure (such as Albert Einstein) when the text is completely unrelated to the individual. Such is Einstein’s stature that many people simply believe he said it, and the image (usually in the form of a meme) can be disseminated across social media services millions of times. Search results based on factual relevance would, hopefully, go some way to correcting this.
Google’s ongoing campaigns certainly provide plenty for businesses to think about. There are concerns about the factual algorithm, as satirical sites such as The Onion thrive on providing spurious news and wouldn’t be well served by the update. The belief, however, is Google’s change would simply complement their current algorithms, and creative tomfoolery, new discoveries lacking verification, and new technology won’t be affected. As always, time will tell how this one plays out.