The eve of Mobilegeddon? Probably not.

by Tim Hill (aka Doodled)

April 17th 2015

Google has been working hard to whip up hysteria in the SEO community. Before April is out your rankings might be affected if your site isn't mobile friendly ... or so they say.

Is Google really about to forsake quality results for pretty sites?
Is Google really about to forsake quality results for pretty sites? (Image from drewdrewthis.com)

The exact wording was "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."

That sounds pretty strong and it certainly has had everyone from WebProNews to Search Engine Watch writing about it while web design companies look to make hay from the panic being generated. But how 'significant' can Google really make this 'impact'.

Can Google afford Mobilegeddon?

Truth is Google is between a rock and a hard place on this. It wants to provide the best user experience in order to remain the world's number one choice when it comes to search but that doesn't necessarily mean offering up mobile friendly websites to mobile users.

Would you, for example, prefer to buy a product at the best possible price or are you prepared to pay more because the website you purchase from is mobile friendly?

Would you, to take another example, like the best possible information on a particular search or just the information available from mobile friendly sites?

Well the answers are pretty obvious - if the content is right mobile users are ready to pinch their screens or change screen orientations or squint! Whatever it takes to get that content.

Now it would be 'nice' if the best information or the best priced products were on mobile friendly websites but if they aren't Google can't just drop them down the rankings. To do so would be to undermine itself as the best search engine available.

Mobilegeddon has been and gone

Besides all this what most commentators have completely ignored is one simple fact. Mobile rankings of a website or page have long been affected because Google considers bounce rate as a factor.

Generally speaking websites that are not mobile friendly have higher bounce rates from mobile users and this alone has pushed them down the index for searches carried out on mobile devices.

I say "generally speaking" because of course this is not always true but in hundreds of cases that I have looked at over the last couple of years the pattern is often repeated:

  • the website does not have a mobile friendly version
  • the website has a high bounce rate from mobile users
  • we create a mobile friendly version for the site or a reponsive CSS template
  • the bounce rate drops and rankings improve

Interestingly though mobile sites served up to tablet users do, in the majority of cases, increase their bounce rate so when we are talking mobile I mean very mobile - smartphones.

While that may sound like a byline it is actually a very important point. By making webmasters scramble to create mobile friendly sites Google may have made the life of tablet users worse until said webmasters realise the above!

So why all the noise?

It seems to me Google is just using its clout to try and make more of the virtual world mobile friendly for which many might be tempted to thank the global search giant.

But for Google to reduce the rankings of a website that it popular with mobile users, even if it isn't mobile friendly, would be to degrade the quality of their search results. Unlikely.

None of this is to say that you should not be giving your visitors the best possible experience whatever device they use but better to get that new design right and well tested than to scramble frantically on the eve of "Mobilegeddon".