Google’s latest mobile update has now rolled out, designed to expand the “use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal”.
It’s been the biggest update to Google’s algorithm in many, many years. Bigger than Panda or Penguin, both of which had a significant impact not just on search engines, but also on the millions of website owners around the world.
As an industry leading digital marketing agency, Silverbean have access to a wealth of data and expertise that allow us to provide exceptional insight into the real world impact of this latest Google algorithm update. We wanted to share some of these insights with you to help provide a data backed view the update.
For the purposes of this study we’ve taken a number example websites, in a range of different industries and with differing levels of mobile friendliness to see what impact has been across the search engine landscape.
Let’s dive straight into some data and look at the real world impact of this significant change in mobile search results.
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How has Mobile Traffic been affected by the Mobile Update?
The graph below shows the average mobile traffic share, from organic traffic, for 16 different sites from 1st January 2015 to 31st March 2015:
As you can see, we’ve selected a set of sites that have varying levels of existing mobile traffic. This gave us a good overview of the impact of the Google Mobile update.
The average mobile traffic share across all 16 sites prior to the mobile update was 39.8%. Studies have shown that mobile traffic has already, or is imminently going to, surpass desktop traffic. This will undoubtedly have had an influence on Google choosing to release this mobile algorithm update now, as mobile traffic shows no sign of slowing down.
Now let’s investigate what things look like after the update rolled out on the 21st April 2015:
Depending on the site, the impact in terms of mobile’s share of overall organic traffic has been anything from non existent to business changing. The average mobile traffic share in the week following the update was 52.2%, an increase of 12.9%. This highlights just how important mobile traffic is and backs up Silverbean’s previous point that mobile traffic is still growing.
One site, which didn’t have a mobile friendly design saw a 57% increase in organic traffic share, from 13% to 67%. The reason for this is that competitor pages have already been reviewed and lacked a mobile friendly design, and therefore that this site has retained its mobile organic traffic in the short term.
This is our first indication that this particular Google update is using a slow roll out process.
Other sites have only swung by a few percent. Of the 16 sites we have in this study, 6 only saw their organic mobile traffic share change by 5% or less. This suggests that the changes made so far are only small and this update will have a much more dramatic effect in the medium to long term.
How has the Google Mobile Update impacted organic mobile traffic levels?
We also wanted to look at the direct impact, in terms of a percentage, of how many organic mobile visitors each site had lost or gained in the week following the update:
The graphs above shows that there has been some fairly substantial movements in levels of mobile traffic since the update. However, it’s not always been in the direction that we expected.
For example, just two of the sites in our study that had no mobile functionality actually lost traffic. There has been increases in mobile traffic to 6 of the sites that we didn’t consider ‘mobile friendly’.
It’s clear that Google didn’t consider them mobile friendly either – the Mobile User Experience scores from PageSpeed Insights for these sites ranged from 62 – 67.
Whereas the mobile sites that we tested showed a much more significant trend. 6 of the 8 mobile sites we included in this study have seen increased mobile traffic since the update.
The increases ranged from 2% to 159%. Clearly some sites have benefited more than others in the short time since the update on April 21st 2015. This is due to the slow roll out process that Google are employing, meaning that individual URLs are being impacted. As this update was never intended to apply at a domain level, it’s very unlikely that we would’ve experienced huge changes from day one.
There are two sites which had excellent mobile functionality, but still lost traffic. One was just by 2%, however, the second site saw a more significant 18% drop. This particular site is in an extremely competitive space – and all of the major competitors have also added very effective mobile functionality to their sites.
The one weakness of this particular site is content! For all the importance of mobile functionality and good user experience, this update has made it abundantly clear, once again, that high quality content is an absolutely crucial aspect of any digital marketing campaign.
What impact have you seen on your mobile traffic since the update on April 21st?
How have Mobile Rankings been affected by the Mobile Update?
For this part of the study we took a group of four large sites that rank for a large range of terms to ensure we got view over a large number of keywords. The sites are in different industries and rank for thousands of terms each, giving us a very large sample set.
Two of the sites have very good responsive designs. The other two do not have any form of mobile friendly design. This should therefore highlight the two ends of the spectrum and the differing impact of the update.
Penalties on Non Mobile Site Rankings.
This data shows us how sites without mobile functionality have had their rankings penalised:
There has been an average drop of 4.68 positions for the 100 terms that we tracked for our two sites without mobile functionality.
Ranking Benefits for Sites with Mobile Functionality
Silverbean also wanted to investigate how positive the change has been for sites that have good mobile functionality.
There has been an average increase of 6.32 positions for the 100 terms we tracked across the two sites with effective responsive designs.
Clearly there’s been a positive impact for sites that have a good mobile user experience. Google have stated that this isn’t an update that actively penalises pages – it just wants to get mobile friendly content in front of mobile users.
However, as we’ll see in the next section of this report – rankings aren’t everything!
Net effect on Organic Mobile Search Impressions
We can take this investigation a step further and take a look across all 16 of our sites above to see how Google Webmaster Tools impressions have changed.
Below is a graph showing 14 of the 16 initial sites and how mobile impressions have changed in the previous week. Two of the sites were excluded from this part of the study due to lack of data. In order to create a benchmark, we’ve compared the mobile impressions from the week following the update to the average of the previous 6 weeks.
The graph above shows the significant impact that the Google Mobile Update has had on non mobile sites. Of our selection of 7 non-mobile sites, only one saw a very slight increase in mobile impressions from organic search, 2%. All of the remaining sites saw a reduction of between 2% and 40% in mobile search impressions. The average reduction in mobile search impressions for the non-mobile sites was 20.2%.
However, the interesting figures are actually across the 7 mobile sites, where only two sites have seen increases in the number of mobile impressions they’ve received.
The rest have all seen drops in the number of mobile organic impressions, despite having extremely high user experience scores on mobile. The average drop in mobile impressions among the mobile sites was 11.6%.
Perhaps this is due to pages on the first couple of mobile sites already having been re-crawled and updated in the index by Google? Perhaps it’s due to a seasonal trend? As previously mentioned though, the sites we’ve included in this study cover a wide range of industries, functions and audiences.
The team here at Silverbean think this is as clear an indication as you’re likely to get that this update is rolling out slowly. We might not see the full impact of it for weeks or months. It is clear that the impact will be significant though, as and when it hits each and every page of a website, or each and every SERP.
Have you checked your Webmaster Tools data since the update? Let us know what you’re seeing!
As always, when Google algorithm updates launch, there are more daily fluctuations than normal, which can cause some erroneous data.
How has the mobile updated affected traffic from different mobile operating systems?
Another aspect of mobile search that we were interested in investigating was the amount of traffic sites received from different mobile operating systems.
For the purposes of this study we’ll be focusing on iOS and Android as they hold the vast majority of the mobile search market.
We were particularly interested to see if traffic from Android devices had been impacted more significantly, due to the intrinsic link between Android users and Google personalisation.
It’s probably something that a lot of marketers overlooked, but Silverbean are confident this is the impact of Google’s personalisation reducing the apparent losses caused by this mobile update.
As you can see, in almost every case, Android traffic has fallen less than iOS traffic. On average, sites that lost mobile traffic retained 8% more Android traffic than iOS traffic.
Google personalises search results based on the user’s history. As Android users are nearly always logged in when performing Google searches, they’re more likely to be shown personalised results.
iOS users however, are less likely to be logged into their Google account when searching.
The net effect of this is that searchers, especially those who have visited the site before, are more likely to find the site if they’re using Android than iOS.
Do your analytics figures show the same trend since the update? Leave a comment and share your findings!
Has the Organic Mobile Update had any impact on paid traffic?
As we’re a digital marketing agency with substantial expertise in both organic and paid marketing channels. Our unified proposition means that we’re interested in optimising digital marketing performance across the board, not just for one specific channel.
Understanding the relationship between different marketing channels is key in achieving great performance.
The below graph shows paid mobile traffic, as a percentage of all traffic, from mobile before and after the update.
As Google previously stated – there has been no impact on PPC traffic to these sites. The small fluctuations that we have seen are to be expected over the course of a campaign.
Silverbean expect ‘mobile-friendly’ labels to influence CTR in the medium to long term, but at present there has been little to no impact on paid search traffic.
Have your current PPC campaigns been at all affected by this organic mobile update?
What’s the reaction been to this Mobile Update around the web?
As ever with significant algorithm updates from Google, the digital marketing community has been full of interesting analysis.
This update in particular seems to have attracted more significant attention than usual from the wider press, even sites like the BBC have picked up on the story.
Barry Schwartz of Marketing Land reached out to his readers and posed the question as to whether they had noticed any effects of the change.
Even without an understanding of who the respondents were, and what size of site or portfolio of sites they are responsible for, it’s interesting to see a clear and resounding “No”.
The rest of Barry’s thoughts are available here. The resounding feeling is that it’s a slow rollout, just as we’ve identified in this study.
Conversely, the guys over at Search Metrics draw a completely different conclusion.
Four days after the update, the guys published their list of 50 biggest winners and 50 biggest losers in the mobile search results.
They detail some absolutely massive swings, however, Silverbean have chosen to take some of their interpretation with a pinch of salt. Their data shows mobile visibility making leaps for a site that shall remain nameless, with the same site’s desktop visibility slowly dropping since the update, yet the site in question is as far from mobile-friendly as possible.
The guys do go on to explain that they are still crunching all of the numbers before drawing any more conclusions. You can read their full article here.
It’s always good when commenting on the world of search to take stock of what Moz have to say.
Understandably they have tapped into their exhaustive data-set to create a mobile-version of Mozcast (mozcast.com), their at-a-glance indicator of “turbulence” within Google rankings. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the temperature reported the more tumultuous the ranking results are.
The purple bars represent days the days after the Google Mobile Update launched. It’s interesting to note that with the exception of one particularly “hot” day, we are not presented with any dramatic fluctuations in search results, at least nothing deserving the title of “mobilegeddon”.
Moz themselves recognise that the lack of any major changes may just be as a result of their particular method of data analysis, but ultimately arrive at a conclusion very much like our own; this algorithm change surely indicates Google’s policy for this particular update is to roll it out slowly, updating URL by URL over a long period of time.
If you’ve written content regarding the Google Mobile Update – let us know all about it!
What can I do if my site has been impacted by the Google Mobile Update already?
First thing’s first – get working on a responsive or mobile design for your website.
Google have stated their intention to help deliver only usable sites in mobile search results.
Browse to your site now on your phone. Can you really easily select the pages you want? Access your menu items? Use social sharing buttons? Add items to you basket? Whatever the primary functions of your site are, users need to have easy access to them.
Tom is one of the resident SEO consultants here at Silverbean and he has crafted an exceptional guide on how and why to make your site mobile friendly.
For anything additional, or if you just want to discuss the study we’ve put together, get in touch on Twitter using the handle @silverbean – we would love to hear from you.