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Study: 45% of Businesses Saw Ranking Changes From Mobile-Friendly Update

So was Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update (“Mobilegeddon”) overhyped or not? Well, perhaps yes and no. While the initial consensus after the update’s launch was that changes in search rankings were minimal, a recent study indicates that small-to-medium sized enterprises did see some significant changes – just not complete ranking obliteration as the “Mobilegeddon” name suggested.

Did your site see any rankings shift whatsoever after the mobile-friendly update? Positive or negative? Was your site optimized for mobile?

Google released an algorithm update on April 21 that began taking the mobile-friendliness of a site into account when ranking that site in search results. It’s still just one of many signals Google uses, and it’s not as significant as relevance or quality, but it is clearly a factor Google is taking very seriously as more searches are performed from mobile devices than on desktop now.

Ahead of the update there was borderline mass hysteria as reports would have had you believe sites that weren’t optimized for mobile faced the possibility of disappearing from the search results. That didn’t exactly happen. Not only was the weight of this signal over-implied, but many sites rushed to comply with Google’s mobile-friendly guidelines leading up to that date, and ultimately the rankings just didn’t change all that much based on early reports.

Google’s John Mueller recently had this to say about the update:

I think one of the difficulties here is that it is a very broad change. So while it’s had a fairly big impact across all the search results, it doesn’t mean that in every search result you will see very big changes. So that is something that affects a lot of different sites, a lot of different queries, but it is not such that the sites disappear from the search results completely if they are not mobile friendly.

On the one hand, that makes a lot of sense for the sites that aren’t able to go mobile friendly yet, maybe like small businesses who don’t have the time or the money to set their sites for that. These are results that are still fairly relevant in the search results, so we need to keep them in there some how.

The other aspect that we noticed is that a lot of sites really moved forward on going mobile. So where we expected essentially a little bit of a bigger change, because of maybe bigger sites that weren’t mobile friendly, did take the time to go mobile friendly and with that, they didn’t see that much of a change.

Since then, digital marketing agency Koozai has released results from a study of 2000 SMEs across the US, finding that businesses experienced a drop in organic rankings and traffic even though they had optimized their sites for mobile, and that many have been left confused by the results.

The study also suggests that many businesses did indeed see ranking changes, it just wasn’t to the point of “mobile gedddon”. It was more like their sites dropped down a few spots. So, pretty much like Mueller was saying. Still, even these milder drops have led to significant traffic decreases in some cases.

The study found that 69% of businesses said the suggestion that the update would cause “mobilegeddon” was overhyped, incorrect, and unhelpful. Frankly I’m surprised that number wasn’t higher.

45% of businesses claimed they had experienced changes to their rankings or traffic as a result of the update, and 41% of those were concerned that they had seen a drop in rankings by at least three places and had noticed a drop in traffic as a result. Some of these saw as much as a 50% decline. 27% said they had seen a drop in rankings even though they had optimized for mobile. 37% were said to be concerned that the update might have an impact on sales, while 44% were not worried as they said most of their sales came from desktops.

12% were apparently completely oblivious to Google’s mobile-friendly test tool as they said they didn’t even know whether their websites were optimized for mobile or not.

49% said they didn’t know if sales on their desktops sites had initially come from visitors viewing their products or services on mobile.

“The hype that the Google mobile update would cause carnage in the search engine rankings missed the larger picture. Exaggerating the impact meant that businesses didn’t anticipate that even small changes in their ranking can have an big impact on their organic mobile search results,” said Ben Norman, CEO of Koozai. “The survey reveals inconsistent effects are being felt by businesses that has resulted in confusion and concern. When a business has optimized for mobile then drops three places, it is understandable that they feel angry that they have acted on Google’s warnings and yet have still experienced a negative impact.”

“With more than 200 Google ranking factors, many businesses may have dropped in the organic search results when a competitor optimized for mobile because they were better optimized for some of these other ranking factors,” he added. “The survey also uncovered a worrying lack of understanding in the SME community of ecommerce analytics. Many consumers today will research on mobile than go onto purchase on desktop. Many SMEs are missing out on these lead creation opportunities if they don’t know if their ecommerce sites aren’t giving their potential customers a good experience on mobile.”

A lot of the news out of Google this week has been related to another mobile ranking signal the company announced at the same time it announced the mobile-friendly update. That’s app indexing. While it was initially just for Android, Google announced that it will begin indexing content in iOS apps.

At its Google I/O developer conference, it also announced “Now on Tap,” which will be built into the next version of Android, and will enable users to get contextually relevant information from Google Now sources. App indexing reportedly figures into this as well, and can give you more opportunities to get your app content in front of users.

Did you see any effects from the mobile-friendly update?

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