Major Google SEO update: Websites that aren’t mobile friendly set to be penalised

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Leading SEO experts are warning small business owners without mobile or responsive websites are about to get hit with a major Google update on April 21 that could cost them 20 to 30% of their traffic.

Previous major updates, targeting issues such as “black hat SEO” have led to penalties for companies using techniques such as cloaking and buying links.

In a recent post on its Webmaster Central Blog, Google said it will roll out a major update to its search results on April 21 that will see mobile-friendly sites rank higher than those that aren’t designed for mobile.

“Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimised for their devices,” said Google.

“Starting today, we will begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed. As a result, we may now surface content from indexed apps more prominently in search.”

The search giant also pointed out web developers who are unsure about how their websites comply to read its guide to mobile-friendly sites and use its mobile-friendly test.

Jim Stewart, SEO specialist and founder of Stew Art Media, told SmartCompany that while Google has been urging website owners to improve their SEO for some time, this is the first time it has revealed when that change is set to roll out.

“They’ve been warning for some time – about 12 months – for website owners to get mobile-friendly,” Stewart says.

“Google has over 200 ranking signals it uses to decide how it ranks pages, and being mobile-friendly will be a major one. So while they haven’t said there will be a penalty for not having a mobile-friendly site, a site that isn’t mobile-friendly will sit below one that is mobile-friendly.”

Stewart says while Google at this stage doesn’t appear like it will penalise the desktop version of a website for not being mobile-friendly, it will be a major factor on mobile devices.

“For some businesses – for example we have a mobile retailer that gets 30% to 40% of their traffic from mobile devices – that change is likely to be very significant,” he says.

“So if Google detects you’re on a mobile device, it will give you relevant resources for mobile. If you’re on mobile, it will look for certain things [in terms of design].”

According to Stewart, who discusses the topic in greater depth in his SEO videos, web designers and business owners need to make sure they have a mobile-optimised version of their website or a responsive design website in order to preserve their traffic.

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Andrew Sadauskas is a former journalist at SmartCompany and a former editor of TechCompany.

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