Knowledge |

Everything you need to know about the mobile-friendly algorithm update

Key Information



  • An algorithm update is being released on April 21, aimed at improving mobile search results.
  • Websites that are mobile-friendly could see improved visibility, those that are not will lose visibility in mobile search.
  • You can test whether your website is mobile-friendly using Google’s mobile usability tools here and here.
  • If you make a page mobile-friendly after April 21, the next time the website is indexed Google will take the mobile-friendly changes into account.
  • This update will not affect tablet or desktop search, only mobile search.
  • Only results in the main Google organic listings will be affected by the mobile-friendly update. Maps, the local pack etc will remain the same.




The Mobile-friendly algorithm update


During January Google started sending emails to webmasters letting them know if their website has mobile usability issues. The core message from this email is that pages which are not mobile-friendly will have reduced visibility within mobile search results – as highlighted below.


Following this message on February 26, Google announced that they are releasing an international (affecting all versions of Google) algorithm update on 21, April 2015 that will have a substantial effect on mobile search results.


Why is mobile-friendly search important?


With global web traffic from mobile devices increasing consistently year on year, we’re seeing a very significant portion of website traffic coming from smartphones, with varying form factors (hardware and screen sizes), and not just the more traditional devices such as the PC or laptop. Older websites were designed only with these users in mind as mobile device market share was minimal or non-existent. The IDC produced a forecast report predicting smartphones by 2017 will make up more than 70% of connected devices, while traditional desktop PC’s will make up just 5% of the market share.

We’ve looked at a number of different Analytics profiles, and visitor numbers from mobile search account for as anywhere between 15% and 62% of search engine visitors (depending upon niche and whether the site is B2B or B2C). Websites operating within B2B tend to receive lower percentages while shopping and B2C tend to receive upwards of 40% mobile visitors from search.

From a user perspective, browsing non mobile-friendly websites from a mobile device can be a really challenging experience. Google knows this and for that reason is incorporating mobile-friendly as a ranking signal from April 21 onwards. This basically means that mobile-friendly websites will be rewarded with improved visibility within mobile search results, and if your website isn’t mobile friendly it will lose visibility within the mobile search results.


How does the mobile-friendly algorithm impact my website?


If your website isn’t mobile friendly by April 21 2015, it’s highly likely that you will see a drop in mobile search engine visibility because Google is sending your website less visitors from mobile devices. But the impact of not having a mobile-friendly website is much more widely felt than just reduced Google visibility. A website that isn’t usable on a mobile phone is missing out on opportunities to interact and convert visitors into customers.

Visitors searching from tablets will not be affected by the mobile-friendly update.


How many visitors am I getting from mobile-search?


1)      Log in to your Google Analytics account, select the website profile.

2)      From the navigation menu select: audience, mobile, overview.

3)      Apply a secondary dimension of medium and plot organic mobile and organic desktop.

4)      To see the growth of mobile-search on your website increase the date range.

5)      Use conversion information such as goal completions or e-commerce translations to see how important mobile traffic is to your business.





How does the Google mobile-friendly update work?


According to Gary Illyes, webmaster trends analyst at Google, this algorithm will run in real-time, much like the Panda algorithm does. The algorithm looks at individual pages and not the site as a whole, therefore only non-mobile-friendly pages will be negatively affected by this update. At any stage after the update mobile-friendliness can be implemented and when the website is next crawled Google will take this into account.


How can I test to see if my website is mobile-friendly?


1)      Firstly, review the ‘Mobile Usability’ section of Google Webmaster Tools for the selected website. If you find a message like this, then your website is Mobile-friendly:


2)      Perform a site: search for your website from your mobile device or using the mobile emulator within Chrome. Locate the Mobile-friendly tag (as shown in the screenshot below).




3)      Test pages with the Google Mobile-friendly test, especially useful for pages that are not indexed or where a site has multiple CMS systems controlling different sections of the website. Just because one page passes doesn’t mean the entire site is mobile-friendly.




Kostas has made a tool that can check in bulk up to 250 URL’s, the checked URL’s can also be exported into a spreadsheet friendly format.



My website isn’t mobile-friendly


After testing, if your website isn’t useable on mobile we’ve put together a list of resources you can use to help take steps towards making your website mobile-friendly, or help you to be more informed when it comes to discussing going mobile-friendly with your developer.

In some instances it might be less of a headache, or cheaper, to build a whole new website rather than adapting your old website. In this case you might want to check out Site Visibilities’ comprehensive guide to a successful website re-launch.

If you have any questions about the algorithm update or how to make your website mobile friendly, then drop us a comment below or tweet us @3WhiteHats.

Alternatively you can give us a call to discuss, and we can help put you in touch with our trusted partners who will make your website mobile-friendly.