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Google's new mobile algorithm: what does it mean for brands?

Since April 21st, Google has been making significant changes to its search algorithms to favour "mobile friendly" websites – meaning that sites which haven't been designed with mobile browsing in mind will find themselves increasingly bumped down the search engine's famously fickle listings.

With mobile internet usage on the rise (44% of retail internet minutes are now spent on mobile phones, and a further 11% on tablets) it's perfectly logical that Google is seeking to award greater prominence to websites that perform better on mobile devices – but what does this mean for brands and how can they adapt to ensure their websites aren't relegated to the depths of Google's search rankings?

Is this necessarily a bad thing?

The algorithm update has been received with mixed feelings and has even been colloquially termed as "mobilegeddon" by some. However, as some commentators suggest, the change shouldn't be looked at with fear and loathing, but instead as an opportunity for brands to communicate more effectively with their audience.

To stay ahead of the competition, brands should always be looking to improve their user experience. After all, mobile isn't a passing fad: usage is only likely to increase in future, particularly with the advent of emerging mobile devices like smartwatches. Considering this growing trend, Google's update is perhaps the catalyst slow-adopting brands need to make the transition to mobile, and to stay in step with consumer demand and browsing habits. The reward? Greater visibility in search, which may translate to an uplift in interactions and conversions.

What makes a website non-mobile friendly?

The objective of the new algorithm is to serve mobile users with sites in which the content works effortlessly for their device. Some of the classic technical hallmarks of a non-mobile optimised website include unplayable video, content that is too large for a mobile screen and slow loading times – if a mobile user has to wait more than 6-10 seconds for a website to load, they are more likely to abandon the page and move on with their search.

However, while brands need to pay close attention to the technical aspects of mobile optimisation, ensuring their digital offerings are tailored from a user experience perspective, they also need to carefully consider how to communicate successfully with a "mobile" audience. This may range from ensuring content is "snackable" (written in an appropriately short, snappy and engaging style) to bringing go-live timings in line with commuter peak hours, to using mobile-driven GPS data to ensure communications are geo-targeted for maximum relevance.

By building a fully digitalised (and increasingly personalised) communications offering, brands can forge more meaningful relationships with their audience, and drive more quality interactions.

Will this affect my desktop rankings?

For those unsure of whether their site passes muster under the new algorithm, Google offers a mobile-friendly test where you can simply enter a URL, and it will analyse whether or not the website is optimised for mobile, providing a breakdown of blackspots and areas for improvement.

The good news for non-optimised sites is that the changes only affect Google rankings on mobile devices, and therefore don't impact searches made on desktop computers or tablets. However, even if most of a website's traffic comes from desktop browsers, the mobile browsing trend looks set to continue for the foreseeable future. Having a fully optimised site – and a fully future-proofed mobile communications strategy – is rapidly becoming an essential, rather than a nice-to-have.