Five Ways Google’s Mobile Algorithm Might Have Affected Your Ranking

Ian O'Rourke Posted by Ian O'Rourke

Google’s mobile search algorithm update affected 10% of all mobile websites, leading directly to drops in their respective rankings. The question is: how can you protect your rankings in the future?

When Google released its mobile website algorithm less than a month ago, it wouldn’t say exactly how the algorithm would penalise websites that didn’t create easier browsing and purchasing experiences for customers.

So after examining a bounty of websites, I’ve created a list of five factors you need to consider when creating or adapting your mobile site to make it easier to use and more relevant in the eyes of both Google and your customers.

If your ranking has taken a hit, you may find the reason for the dive listed below.

1. Desktop and Mobile Are Different

You can’t just shrink down the size of your desktop website to create a mobile site – all that accomplishes is redirecting all mobile activity to a page with tiny text and hard-to-click dynamic links.

Think about how people use mobile phones to navigate. Anything that might need to be clicked shouldn’t just be a text link, but something more substantial so as to make it easier to click with one finger, even on a small screen. The links shouldn’t be close together either, because that presents the danger of clicking on the wrong thing.

Sure, there’s the option to zoom in with a simple pinch, but the whole point is the user should be able to seek out the options they want without having to actively look for them.

2. Pictures Are Out

When I looked at how companies in the insurance and clothing retail industries were affected by Google’s mobile algorithm update, it was clear that the hardest hit sites tend to welcome visitors with what looks like a massive advert, rather than any relevant information.

It’s possible that the companies didn’t use meta text to explain the content of the articles, so Google wasn’t able to crawl these large images.

If someone is looking to compare car insurance deals and they land on this page, they’re just going to think they’ve ended up in the wrong place – and so will Google when it crawls your mobile site and subsequently drops your company down the mobile search rankings.

This doesn’t mean you should remove all pictures – just use them more carefully and ensure you include clear descriptions in the meta data. Make them relevant and easily clickable, and try not to just place one big image above the fold.

3. Navigation Is in

Good, clear navigation is the key to helping your mobile website’s visitors find what they need quickly. That means making sure you place navigation options at the top of the page, so when visitors first hit your site, they can instantly decide how to get to the information they want.

Additionally, menus should be clear and concise, so ensure you have an easily located button at the top of the site that visitors can use to pull up a coherent list of all available pages, including contact information.

Don’t just use what you consider to be meaningful icons – include explanatory text blocks to remove all doubt in the user’s mind as to what the button does.

4. Make it Relevant

Don’t try to advertise things you don’t sell or use landing pages unrelated to the ad copy.

On Lipsy’s mobile site, the leading image advertises Michelle Keegan’s new collection, yet only a proportion of the website’s visitors will realistically be shopping for that. Of course, if we were talking about the landing page for that particular collection, this would be a fine strategy – but we’re talking about the general landing page.

Relevancy is a big factor in successful sponsored search campaigns. If the site’s not relevant, expect your visibility to nosedive – whether in paid search or on mobile search listings.

Sure, you might want to generate more page impressions per visitor, but sending them on a wild goose chase around your mobile site to find the information they want isn’t going to improve your rankings.

The way people use websites on mobile is different than how they use them on desktop. Typically, they want to instantly find the information they’re looking for, whether that’s finding their local branch, figuring out if something’s in stock, or making a purchase.

Hand over the information they want on a silver platter, you’ll probably make Google a whole lot happier and you stand a much better chance at converting site visitors into paying customers!

5. Planning for the Future

Even if your mobile search ranking didn’t drop this time, it’s likely Google will release more updates along the same lines in the future, just like it has time and again for desktop. If your website isn’t welcoming, easy to use, and relevant, you may find yourself slipping in the SERPs next time around.

I’m expecting the next stage of Google’s mobile quest will be to start taking notice of mobile PPC. In fact, Google has already revealed it plans to take an all-out assault on mobile advertising, according to Venture Beat, and that starts with turning around AdWords to be more relevant to mobile platforms (smartphones and tablets both included).

Much richer ad units will apply to some sectors, reflecting the trends of mobile users, so videos will be in and plain text may be out. Google will be making the ads more relevant according to individuals’ tastes and interests and advertisers will be able to more effectively track a user’s journey across platforms.

Google will also introduce AdWords attribution so you can track how a customer came to purchase a product.

How to Stay Ahead

Although Google doesn’t tend to release information in advance, at least you can see how your competitors are predicting change through competitive intelligence for search. Adthena’s tool allows you to dive into mobile paid search, including ad copy, so you can then dig deeper into competitor landing pages and mobile websites to see what works and what doesn’t.

(Main image credit: Robbie Shade/flickr)

About the author

Ian O'Rourke
Ian O'Rourke
Ian is the CEO and Founder of Adthena. He has been involved in technology businesses and start-ups for over 22 years and has built businesses across the globe including in Silicon Valley, London, Australia and Taiwan. Ian has grown Adthena since 2012 to its current position as the premier global provider of competitive intelligence. Ian likes to foster a culture of great products, getting things done, responsibility, freedom and continuous improvement.