Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update will come into effect on April 21st and webmasters everywhere are bracing themselves for significant changes.

The impact will affect more sites than both Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, according to Webmaster Trends Analyst, Zineb Ait Bahajji, with many dubbing it “mobilegeddon” or“mobocalypse”.

Since the unusually specific announcement from Google back in February, the search giant’s mobile-friendly testing tool has quickly became the go-to place for evaluating whether a website is at risk of dropping down the mobile rankings.

According to Google, a page is deemed “mobile-friendly” if it meets the following criteria as detected by Googlebot:

  • Text is readable without zooming
  • Software that is not common on mobile devices isn’t used (i.e. Flash)
  • Content fits the screen so users don’t need to scroll horizontally or zoom
  • Links are placed far enough apart so that the correct one can be tapped

Mobile-Friendly Test

If your website fails the test, Google will provide specific recommendations about what to fix or where improvements can be made. Alternatively, there have been numerous “expert” blog posts in recent weeks that all recommend one thing – get a good mobile website, and quick.

While this is essential, it shouldn’t take an expert to tell you that as Google has been recommending a good mobile user experience for years, with mobile searches rapidly catching up to desktop.

It’s also worth noting that, unlike Panda and Penguin in 2011 and 2012, the mobile algorithm update doesn’t aim to penalise sites and Google have already confirmed that it will run in real time and on a page-by-page basis, meaning any changes to your website or mobile site will be picked up quicker.

So, what about after your site passes the mobile-friendly test? What do Google’s actions on the 21st suggest for the future of mobile search?

What is Mobile Search?

The most important thing to realise is that having a mobile-friendly website does not mean it’s optimised for mobile search.

Mobile search, or mobile SEO, is slightly different to traditional SEO and requires specialist knowledge as it takes into consideration the different ways people search on mobile devices.

There are several key areas to focus on, including technical implementation, coding and content, not just how your site renders on mobiles and tablets.

User Experience

The most important factor when it comes to mobile SEO, is user experience. This impacts how visitors engage with your site and, ultimately, whether they convert or not.

Once your website’s design is deemed “mobile-friendly”, make sure the most important information is easy to find and use clear call to actions.

Page Speed

According to Google, page speed is not part of this mobile update. However, as it’s already an overall ranking factor and crucial to user-experience, it’s essential for any successful mobile SEO strategy.

Use the PageSpeed Insight tool to find out how quick your website loads on mobile devices and Google will provide specific recommendations to improve it, such as compressing large images and deferring JavaScript.

Content

Understanding user intent is particularly important when it comes to mobile search, especially since Google’s Hummingbird update. With more and more people asking search engines specific questions using voice search, your content needs to be tailored to address this and include more conversational search terms.

It’s also important to ensure your content is formatted properly for mobiles and tablets, including optimising page titles and meta descriptions to the correct length for the mobile search results pages.

Technical

It’s vital to monitor how Google is crawling and indexing any website, but especially if you have a separate mobile website to your desktop site. Webmaster Tools and the likes of Screaming Frog will allow you to make sure the correct redirects are in place and keep on top of mobile crawl errors.

WMT-site-errors

Local

Finally, one of the main differences between traditional SEO and mobile SEO is local intent. According to Google, around 50% of mobile searches include location-related terms, so remember to place these throughout your content, use appropriate structured data where possible and submit your site to Google My Business.

If your SEO strategy doesn’t cater for mobile search, now is the time to act. Even with a mobile-friendly website, you still have a lot to do, but with the above advice and efficient planning, you won’t be caught out when Google shifts even more focus onto mobile in the future.