Looking Back at Google’s April 21st Algorithm Update

Kimberly Burghart July 23, 2015

Back on April 21st, 2015, a major update to Google’s search algorithm went into effect. Subsequently referred to as “Mobilegeddon” by some in the digital marketing world, Google updated how their search rankings were calculated to take into account a website’s mobile-friendliness. This left some business owners feeling vulnerable and web design companies working to ensure websites were optimized for mobile devices prior to the algorithm’s implementation date. A lower ranking potentially meaning fewer website visits and, ultimately, fewer customers.

A big part of digital marketing strategy is about testing different factors and analyzing the results they produce. With the April 21st update being a significant change, the few months since have been something of an uncertain time for digital marketers as they waited for the full implications of the new algorithm to become evident. Now that sufficient time has passed, let’s take a look at some of the responses the SEO community has had toward the change and what business owners can expect moving forward.

What have been the effects of the new algorithm?

As one might imagine, gaining insight into such a wide array of data can be a challenge. As with any large-scale quantitative analysis, conclusions can differ slightly as the result of minor changes in variables being analyzed. Observing noted varying effects caused by the algorithm update, SEO firm, Searchmetrics, found that, on average, non-mobile friendly sites lost 0.20 positions in their Google ranking in the weeks following the April 21st change. Mobile-friendly sites, on the other hand, rose an average of 0.20 positions. Mobile visibility accounted for the majority of this change as desktop visibility remained relatively stable for non-mobile friendly sites. This suggests that the April 21st update targeted mobile results exclusively, having little impact on searches originating from desktops.

Similarly, content marketing firm, BrightEdge, calculated that 17.3% of non-mobile friendly URLs dropped off of the first page of results in the two weeks following the update and a 21% decrease such URLs appearing on the first three pages of search results. This represents a dramatic shift in the digital marketing fortunes of those companies and a potentially significant impact on their revenues. The effect was even more dramatic for results appearing on the second and third pages of results. Here, an even larger percentage of non-mobile friendly websites dropped. BrightEdge postulates that this is likely due to other ranking factors typically being weaker down at these pages of search engine results. Subsequently, it’s likely that the mobile-friendliness factor had a bigger impact on the overall ranking on these lower pages.

Not everyone saw significant differences in search engine results following the update, however. Online marketing specialist, Conrad Saam, conducted a concentrated study of small to mid-sized law offices. He found that there was no statistically significant difference in the search results of mobile-friendly websites and non-mobile friendly websites. Whether this conclusion can be applied to businesses of a certain size remains to be seen. Further analysis is clearly needed to determine whether the updated algorithm tends to affect the ranking of certain sized businesses more than others.

What we can learn from mobilegeddon

The general consensus from digital marketers seems to be that while Mobilegeddon did have an impact on SERPs, it was not perhaps as significant as it was feared to be as it was being announced. Some put this down to webmasters and businesses doing a good job of heading Google’s warnings and making sure their websites were mobile friendly prior to April 21st. The issue of mobile-friendly and responsive websites will continue to be an important thing for businesses to keep track of. This change, while significant, may signify the beginning of a shift by Google to giving a greater influence to mobile-friendly sites, particularly as user habits continue to trend toward using mobile devices over desktops.

Moving forward, companies should position themselves by ensuring their websites are mobile-friendly. Using a web design company to ensure a website has an effective responsive design not only helps keep the website’s Google ranking in a strong position, but also facilitates a good user experience for website visitors. The mobile-friendliness of website can be easily checked using Google’s handy tool. Having a website that keeps users engaged means they are more likely to turn into a lead for a business and, ultimately, translates to increased revenue and growth.

Have you noticed any change in your website’s Google search rankings since the new algorithm went into effect? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

If you would like to learn more about the value of having a website featuring a responsive design as part of a digital marketing strategy, don’t hesitate to contact us today to speak with a digital marketing expert.

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