In October of 2011, Mobile, Alabama was fortunate enough to host Google as they rolled out their mobile websites initiative. The purpose was to increase awareness of the necessity of mobile or responsive websites. Fast forward to last month when Google announced some major changes they’ve been working on for their mobile users. On April 21st they’ll be releasing a search update that will include mobile usability as a ranking factor for Google results on mobile devices. So if you weren't paying attention you better start now.

This change will only affect search results on mobile devices, and will give a slight advantage to sites that have been optimized for the mobile experience. Over the last couple of weeks, a few more details about this upcoming change have emerged.

Gary Ilyes is a Webmaster Trend Analyst at Google who provided a few additional details about this upcoming change at SMX West, a search marketing conference, earlier this month.

The first thing he mentioned was that this update won’t exclusively favor pages with a responsive design. Google does recommend a responsive design, because it’s worked well for their users on mobile device. My personal guess is Google will slowly evolve this position and responsive designs will eventually have a slight edge and rank better over the next few years.

The mobile device update will also test invidiual pages for mobile usability. If you have too many major changes to make before the deadline, you should focus on fixing the pages that deliver your most valuable traffic. If you have Google Analytics installed then you can look at Behavior -> Site Content -> All Content to see your top pages.

In his Q&A Ilyes said Google is already working on a new branch of their search index just for mobile device results. He didn’t provide any details on when this change will be made, but the fact Google is prepping a brand new mobile index shows how serious they are about the importance of this signal for the future of mobile search rankings.

Even if you think you can sit back and start patting yourself on the back because mobile traffic doesn’t pay the bills for your business, this is an update worth keeping an eye on. Sites that don’t benefit from mobile traffic today should be paying attention to this change too. Improving mobile rankings now will provide a halo effect for your desktop search traffic over time. Mobile users who search across devices and have a higher engagement on their desktop. Coupling this with attention to other SEO work, like link building and site architecture, could improve your entire Search Engine Marketing (SEM) performance.

Getting ready for the mobile rollout

A great place to get started to improve mobile usability is Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

If you have Google Webmaster setup on your site (if you don’t have that running stop, what your doing and do it yesterday) you can also take a look for any issues in your Webmasters dashboard. In the left hand navigation expand “Search Traffic” and click on “Mobile Usability” to view things Google has identified you can fix to improve your site’s mobile users experience.

In an effort to continue pushing Mobile, Alabama forward on the move to mobile we'd be happy to discuss this topic with you. If you have any questions or if you need someone to install Google Analytics for you just email us to set up a meeting.