Late last month, Google released its highly-anticipated Mobile Friendly Update, which modified the company’s search algorithms, and boosted the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results.
It was a smart and future-friendly move, considering that mobile website traffic eclipsed desktop web traffic last year – and more recently, Google announced that in 10 countries (including the U.S. and Japan), more web searches take place on mobile devices than on computers.
It’s incontrovertible: Mobile web usage is here to stay, and will only grow in the years ahead. Indeed, 2012 research suggests nearly three-fourths of consumers want mobile-friendly websites.
Google's recent update, nicknamed "mobilegeddon" or "mopocalypse" by the blogosphere, now actively rewards web pages that are mobile-friendly, and penalizes those that aren't. If a page's text remains optimised for large screens and features media that isn't supported on smartphones, that page can see a "significant decrease in rankings in mobile search results," the company warned.
Many webmasters listened. In the two months leading up to the update, Google saw a ~5% uptick in the proportion of sites that were mobile-friendly.
Organisations were wise to make those changes, since Google isn't the only search engine company looking to the future. Microsoft will also get in on the act: “We expect to start rolling out mobile-friendliness ranking changes in the coming months,” a member of Microsoft’s Bing team wrote last week.
So what’s been the impact of Google’s update? As one analyst wrote, it “didn’t quite have the doomsday impact that some thought it might.” This is widely credited to companies embracing mobile-friendly designs in recent years.
However, preliminary data suggests some sites lost big, including Reddit (-27%), NBC Sports (-28%), the U.S. Census Bureau (-23%) and Walmart’s corporate portal (-31%).
And it’ll only get worse for companies that don’t embrace this new mobile reality. “(T)he genie is not going back in the bottle,” one columnist wrote. “If you’re hoping that Google will abandon their mobile-friendly algorithm … it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.” Nearly all of the recent reportage on mobilegeddon has focused on English-language U.S. websites. However, the Mobile Friendly Update affects searches from mobile devices across all languages and locations. This is very important for companies to note and understand.
Organisations interested in expanding into new international online markets - or that have already expanded into them - must remember that smartphone penetration in emerging markets is quite large, and rapidly increasing. (See sidebar below.) Users in many of these countries use smartphones as their primary internet devices.
According to an eMarketer report, worldwide smartphone penetration will increase by nearly 13% this year alone, reaching 2 billion users next year. By 2018, more than one-third of all consumers worldwide will use smartphones, the report said.
As we continue to witness the convergence of…
- Increasingly-ubiquitous global smartphone penetration
- Ever-growing opportunities for online expansion into new international markets
- Mobile-friendly search algorithms like Google’s, deployed worldwide
...organisations cannot afford to ignore the mobile web, and search engine algorithmic updates. Those that do will suffer in the marketplace.
We know this because we’re currently seeing it. Our analysis confirms that mobilegeddon is impacting international mobile website traffic, perhaps even more so than English sites – for great good and ill.
The MotionPoint Perspective
MotionPoint works with hundreds of companies, translating their general-market English websites into other languages, and optimising those sites' content and more for maximum engagement and conversion. During the last four weeks, MotionPoint analysed the impact of Google's Mobile Friendly Update on 40 globalised websites.
These 40 sites represented a wide spectrum of industries, including Automotive, Banking, Insurance, Retail, Telecom, Travel, and more. To also ensure a thorough impact analysis across languages, we selected sites in nearly 10 different languages.
These international sites had robust mobile traffic before the deployment of Google’s Mobile Friendly Update.
In the months leading up to the update, we notified clients when their websites received red flags from the Google Developers Mobile-Friendly Test analyzer. Some clients took action to address these issues on their English-language websites. These changes helped convert MotionPoint-operated international sites into proper mobile-friendly experiences.
Other clients took no action.
We used impressions as our criterion to measure the Mobile Friendly Update’s impact. (We chose impressions as our metric because Google penalizes non-compliant sites with a lowered rank in mobile search results – which is reflected in diminished impressions.)
What we discovered was pretty remarkable. All organisations that implemented our recommended mobile-friendly improvements saw increases in impressions from mobile traffic. Some international sites soared, seeing an improvement of more than 40%.
Unsurprisingly, clients that addressed most (or all) of MotionPoint’s recommendations saw greater lifts in impressions. Ultimately, we determined that by reducing mobile usability issues by an average of 32% resulted in an increase of nearly 25% in mobile impressions, and a boost in overall impressions of 16%.
Companies that chose not to implement our recommendations saw much different results. After the Mobile Friendly Update was deployed, the quantity of web pages that had mobile usability issues actually increased on these sites. Overall, sites saw an average issue increase of 35%. This resulted in a decline in mobile impressions of 20%, and a drop in overall impressions of 17%.
Further analysis revealed:
- Sites that took virtually no steps to address MotionPoint’s recommendations saw their mobile impressions decline by an average of 36%
- Sites that corrected some issues, but remained very “mobile unfriendly” saw declines of 28% on average
The key takeaways for organisations are two-fold. Firstly, companies must take seriously the impact of algorithmic updates such as Google's "mobilegeddon." Secondly, they should consider how such updates will affect the performance of their important international sites - and must take steps to ensure that traffic (and conversion and sales) won't be impacted in these thriving, mobile-savvy global markets.
And having a partner like MotionPoint, who provides recommendations, best practices and performance-boosting optimizations in the face of these rapidly-changing SEO requirements, certainly doesn’t hurt.
Is your organisation ready to engage with smartphone-savvy customers in new international online markets? Contact us. Our in-market Global Growth experts navigate these waters every day, and can help your global sites connect with the right customers ... no matter what connected device they’re using.