Did the mobile friendly update make the web a better place?

  • 2
  • June 30, 2015
Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright

Strategy Director

Google’s announcement in February that sites labelled as mobile-friendly would been given some kind of preference caused mass hysteria, hitting the BBC, Wall Street Journal and plenty of others. It also led to speculation that Google might start announcing more updates in advance.

Then two things happened:

  1. ‘Mobilegeddon’, as the mobile-friendly update was dubbed, was a massive anti-climax and amounted to little more than an average day’s flux in search rankings
  2. Google released an update a week or so later that caused massive damage in a lot of verticals, and flat out refused to admit they’d done it for weeks following the event

So much for ‘don’t be evil’.

The ranking changes on April 29th were significant enough that most of the industry was convinced a substantial algorithm update had happened.

Glenn Gabe is usually the first on the scene with these things, so for an early assessment of the damage (that proved to be fairly accurate) you should check out his blog.

The ranking changes that happened in the days following the mobile-friendly update were insignificant in comparison.

Google puts this down to the fact that a lot of the websites that might have been negatively impacted by the update became mobile-friendly in the lead up to the 21st  of April.

If that’s the case then mission accomplished.

Even after the event Google insisted that the update impacted a greater number of search queries than Panda and Penguin combined.

Almost every query a searcher enters returns some results.

Even in 2013 Google handled 500 million queries it had never seen before each and every day.

Every result Google returns is either mobile friendly, or it isn’t, and as long as some pages returned are mobile friendly and some aren’t then that query is going to be affected.

If the results are trying to sell something to the user entering the query, or if they are monetised in any way, then there’s a decent chance that they might want to do something to rank better and make more money. The query could be affected by Panda or Penguin.

But there are plenty of results that aren’t trying to sell something, results whose owners think they have to go to the zoo to see Pandas and Penguins.

These results are either mobile friendly, or they aren’t.

There are hundreds of ranking factors – boxes that have to be ticked or needles that have to be moved in order to rank in Google. Working properly on a mobile should probably be a significant one that decides whether you rank well on a mobile device or not.

Let’s not forget that, right now, you rank in mobile results based on the content you show on desktop, not on mobile.

The hysteria in the mainstream press around ‘mobilegeddon’ was largely met with indifference from people within the SEO industry, who generally considered that all websites should have been working just fine on mobile for a few years now.

The conversation around ‘Phantom’ or the quality update focussed on which tactics still work to get rankings.

But the conversation running up to the mobile friendly update seemed to revolve around a genuine desire among SEOs to make the web better.