New Google mobile algorithm changes search rankings, 40% of businesses affected

It's been coined "Mobilegeddon" because it caught many small businesses by surprise. On Tuesday, April 21, Google – which is used for approximately two-thirds of online searches – made a major update to its search algorithm that changes how websites are ranked when users search for something from their phone.

Mobile-friendly websites will now get a more favorable Google ranking. For example, responsive websites that resize to fit whatever screen they're viewed on will move ahead along with sites with large text and easy-to-click links. 

An estimated 40% of businesses are not mobile-friendly, according to USA Today, and will likely drop in search rankings because of Google's new algorithm. The percentage of small businesses affected is estimated to be even higher. 

"Small businesses are generally seen at greater risk, because they have a higher likelihood of not knowing about the update, or not having the time or resources to make changes," Itai Sadan, CEO of website building company Duda, told Business Insider in a recent report.

Over half of online searches are conducted with mobile devices, and there are potential benefits to Google if more websites are mobile-friendly. Matt Ackley, chief marketing officer of Marin Software, explains in the WSJ report that advertisers typically pay less for clicks from phones, because they less often lead to sales, and encouraging more mobile-friendly websites should lead to more sales which will lead to higher prices for Google’s mobile ads. 

Google often changes its algorithm, usually with no notice, in order to limit companies' abilities to game the Google ranking system. In February, the company made an unprecedented announcement that this change was coming, and even gave tips on how to prepare, yet many small businesses owners claim that this change took them by surprise. Google even published a "Mobile-Friendly" test page in its developer section that anybody can use to see if a website is mobile-friendly according to these new algorithms. 

USA TODAY tested many top brands with the Google test and reports that while many passed the test, several did not, including some large companies such as California Pizza Kitchen, Versace, and European airlineRyanair. Website TechCrunch found that 44% of the Fortune 500 companies failed the mobile-friendly test.

Small businesses that don't have the budgets of a Fortune 500 company are now scrambling to try to make their websites mobile-friendly in order to prevent any loss in ranking and sales. USA Today provided these tips:

  • As a short-term fix, make sure local information is current and up-to-date in Yelp and on Google's MyBusiness section, since most local businesses are found these days through directory services like Yelp and Google's local search listings.
  • Call a local website host. Many have tools in place to transition websites. For instance, GoDaddy, the top provider of website addresses and hosting, offers a tool to completely rebuild a website to make it mobile-friendly and charges $1 monthly for the service. 
  • Go to a service like dudamobile for a more robust, yet smaller version of a website, starting at $5 per month.
  • Get in touch with a local Web developer to farm out the work so that the mobile-friendly website site will look more like the original site.

With Google taking the lead in placing more importance on mobile in its ranking algorithm, the other search engines will likely follow. Businesses will now need to pay close attention to their websites' ability to elegantly deliver information to people over any device.

"Google has always been about relevancy, and content is king," explained Duda CEO Itai Sadan in a Business Insider report. "But that's changing. Yes, they're saying content is still extremely important, but user experience is just as important. It's not sufficient to have all the right content — if people come to your site and the content is there but it's not readable, that's not good."

There are a number of tools to help small businesses and nonprofits cost-effectively develop a website that provides relevant content, is mobile-friendly, and easily updated. We will cover that topic in an upcoming blog.