More detail from Google on Mobile Usability Update

Google have provided some additional information on their upcoming Mobile Usability release April 21 that may take some pressure off for business owners who have websites that currently fail Google’s Mobile Usability tests.

Mobile assessment is ‘real time’

Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that the penalty is ‘real time’. We assume this means your website’s individual pages are assessed each time Google’s crawler ‘GoogleBot’ visits them. So if you have corrected any mobile usability issues, then the next time Google’s crawler visits your site you’ll automatically recovered from the penalty. Of course this also means that if a mobile issue creeps into your site or Google changes their testing criteria, your site will promptly & silently disappear from mobile rank…

..and Page by Page

Further, Gary confirmed that the mobile usability algorithm runs on a page by page basis – the inference being that a page that fails the mobile test will be penalised, but not the entire site.  Whew!

Mobile Usability Fine Points

These items where identified in a Q&A session for mobile-friendly ranking change hangout

mobile friendly SERPETA: The Mobile Usability algorithm will start rolling out on April 21st and will take a few days to a week to completely and globally.

A little bit mobile friendly? You are either mobile-friendly or not, there are no degrees of mobile-friendliness in this algorithm.

Simple test: Check your site’s search results on a mobile device. If the Google SERP says Mobile-friendly relax – you pass the mobile usability test.
These details are a major relief for business owners scrambling to mobilise their websites before April 21. Some Google penalties take time to get removed while you continue to loose money with a site not generating sales leads/sales, so knowing there’s a prompt and automated recovery is a major relief.  Of course it will be interesting to see what happens once the rollout has settled in.

How big is Google’s Mobile Update ? BIG!

Google’s  Zineb Ait Bahajji has been quoted as saying:

 the upcoming mobile-friendly ranking algorithm that will launch on April 21st will have more of an impact on Google’s search results than the Google Panda update and the Google Penguin update did.

Use the remaining time to get your site mobile friendly.

April 21 is Mobile D-Day

Further to our recent post about Google increasing its emphasis on ‘mobile compatible websites, they have now announced major mobile-specific changes that will have a “significant impact in search results.”

Mobile Friendliness is an even bigger rank signal

Starting April 21 Google are “…expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.
The announcement goes onto say this will have a “significant impact in search results.”

Do yourself a favour

As far as I’m concerned that’s Google-speak for earth shattering so this is an excellent time to

  1. Check if your current site is ‘mobile compatible’
    This compatibility tool will help you
  2. If it isn’t do something about it ASAP
    The best approach is to contact your web developer to discuss options with them



Mobile Usability warnings reinforce Google’s mobile intentions

If you have Google’s Webmaster Tools setup for you site (and you REALLY should do it!) you may have received an alert email from Google warning “Fix mobile usability issues found on <your site>

mobile-friendlyThis is a further step in Google’s current campaign to improve its support for mobile searchers. Back in Oct 2014 they started telling searchers that some websites are Mobile Friendly by displaying a ‘Mobile friendly’ badge in search results.

Google are progressively assessing websites (page by page) to see if mobile visitors to your site have “a meaningful “after-click” experience that helps (them) use information relevant to their task.

They’ve also got new reports in the wings to compare search performance between desktop and mobile devices.

Its quite clear that mobile compatibility is emerging as another key SEO element.

What are Mobile Usability Issues?

What sorts of things are Google checking to decide if your site is ‘mobile compatible’ ?

Flash Usage
Poor old Flash. Once the internet’s dominant multimedia technology, Flash inadvertently fell into the trap of not being Apple’s friend, leading to incompatibility with the largest selling mobile devices and now as a result, not Google’s friend either ;(
I bet Adobe didn’t anticipate that when they bought Flash from Macromedia.

Viewport issues
The viewport tag tells the browser how to display the page’s dimensions and scaling.  In the contemporary internet, 100’s of different devices with different screen requirements can visit a site, so the viewport tag is very important to ensure the website is displayed sympathetically in that individual device.  Google assesses situations where the viewport isn’t working properly including:

  • Viewport not configured
  • Fixed-width viewport
  • Content not sized to viewport

Small font size
Google defines this as “the font size for the page is too small to be legible and would require mobile visitors…’ to pinch to read the text. A no-brainer really…

Touch elements too close
Yep its frustrating when you try to click a button with your finger but the adjacent one is clicked.
There’s got to be some space between the buttons… 

New WMT Measurement Tools too

Google’s as yet unreleased WebMasters ‘Search Impacts’ reports further reinforce how serious Google are about this. These new reports will breakdown organic performance by device (amongst other factors) which will provide accurate and presumably ‘character building’ moments for those without mobile compatible sites.

Google WebMasters Tools draft 'Search Impacts' reports

Draft Webmasters Tools ‘Search Impacts’ report. Source: Search Engine Land

 So who cares? You should!

Rachel Lindteigen from Search Engine Land suggests the next logical step is that poor mobile compatibility will be damaging to your site’s organic search performance – at least in Google searches anyway. Read Rachel’s article here.

Its a logical deduction given Google has already indicated “mobile usability is now relevant for optimal search results”

Haven’t got an email from Google yet?

Haven’t received an email from Google (yet) ? This might be because:

  • Your website passes Google’s mobile usability tests
    Well done! Go to the top of the class. Standby to be loved by Google for mobile searches
  • You don’t have Google WebMasters Tools setup for your site
    Sorry but you are flying blind. If you cant see it, it cant hurt you… Right? (refer Ostrich Survival Techniques)
  • Maybe Google WebMasters Tools is setup, but not sending notifications to an accessible email address
    Oops. Better get that fixed.

Why are Google doing this?

Don’t underestimate the impact on your business of Google’s enthusiastic pursuit of all things mobile. Google has access to more online usage data than anyone. Even the data we can access clearly shows the Internet’s rapid domination by mobile devices. Google want to be sure they maintain their domination in search by presenting mobile searchers with good quality mobile-compatible websites in their search results.

..and what will happen to the sites that aren’t mobile compatible? They will fall through the rankings to the ‘cutting room floor’ and quietly swept out sight.

But really, why are Google so keen on Mobile?

Yes mobile is a big slice of the internet, but its more than that. Mobile device Apps let people escape the tyranny of search by directly connecting them to their chosen resources. People used to search (in Google) to find that resource. If an increasing slice of internet users don’t need Google, they wont click on their Adwords ads and Google’s revenue stream (and share price) starts falling.

So Google’s investment in Hummingbird -which gives it voice search (ie sematic search) technology makes it easier/more intuitive for mobile users to lock them into search.


So if you know your website is not mobile compatible, now is an excellent time to be considering an upgrade, otherwise you’ll be playing catchup to your competitors when Google moves into the next phase.

– Confirm you/your SEO service provider have access to and monitor Google WebMaster Tools
– Check if you/they received Mobile Usability warnings
– Address any mobile warnings (and others) ASAP
This might range from a few tweaks, through to deploying a responsive website.