Robin Richmond: Google update may impact businesses

CHANGES to the way Google assesses data could have a big impact on website traffic, says Robin Richmond
Companies will have to keep a close on eye on how the changes at Google will affect them. Picture: GettyCompanies will have to keep a close on eye on how the changes at Google will affect them. Picture: Getty
Companies will have to keep a close on eye on how the changes at Google will affect them. Picture: Getty

Google is rolling out a significant algorithm update tomorrow that is focused on presenting more mobile-friendly sites and content in their search results. It is an update that businesses will certainly have to sit up and take notice of to ensure they are not impacted negatively.

Since its launch, Google has constantly tweaked and adapted its search algorithm in an attempt to drive the most relevant results to its millions of users worldwide. In any given year the algorithm may be adapted several hundred times and many of these updates can have a significant impact on businesses who use the search engine to drive visitors to their websites.

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Back in 2011, Google’s “Freshness” update affected over 35 per cent of all searches and ensured users were served with more up-to-date relevant results, thus rewarding websites who placed a high value on constantly updating their website with new and engaging content.

In 2012 the “Penguin” update attacked “black-hat” search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques, which revolved around websites that were artificially increasing the amount of links they had pointing towards their website. Several high-profile brands experienced a substantial decrease in their rankings (and in turn their website traffic) as a direct result of this update.

Mobile has always been high on Google’s priority list. Ever since Eric Schmidt introduced a “mobile-first” mantra back in 2010, Google has preached about the importance of mobile. Those that listened have ensured their mobile websites were future-proofed, and began rolling out responsive design in order to ensure their websites responded to iOS and Android browsers.

So what exactly is happening on Tuesday? Dubbed “mobilegeddon”, 21 April marks the biggest change in mobile to date and consists of two main areas:

1) Expansion of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal

Starting tomorrow, Google is going to expand “mobile-friendliness” as a ranking signal. This is essentially one of the factors Google will examine your site against when it decides where to rank you in the listing for a specific user search. Previously, Google added “mobile-friendly labels” to content that suited mobile browsers. As Google’s aim is to present the most relevant search results to mobile devices, its algorithms will now further optimise results against this ranking factor.

2) Surfacing app content in the search engine results pages

Sometimes the most relevant information is contained in an app, and not a webpage. Google understands this, and will begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed.

As with any Google update, businesses could see a potential downside to their rankings within the search engine if they have previously not paid much attention to their mobile website. Crucially, these ranking losses may not just impact their search engine visibility on mobile but on desktop searches too. Even companies that have invested in a mobile-optimised website may experience some adverse effects. Google has always recommended “responsive design” to ensure content is served in the correct format, for the right device.

So what should businesses do?

The first stop for any business should be to visit Google’s “Mobile Friendly Testing Tool”. This allows users to test their websites and run a free report highlighting any errors. Also ask your webmaster to check Google Webmaster Tools and section on Mobile Usability. This can be found under the Search Traffic tab.

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Another important point to note is that Google’s new ranking factors will impact your site on a page level. As such, it’s also worth bearing in mind other ranking factors, such as image compression and minimising payload (both to help page speed).

The bottom line is you should focus on making your website user-friendly, helpful, and relevant – for desktops and mobiles – and you will have the opportunity to rank in Google organic search, for all types of device.

Robin Richmond is managing director of digital marketing agency 8 Million Stories. Based in Edinburgh and London, its client roster includes the BBC, Glenfiddich, Standard Life and Universal Music.

• A free digital marketing seminar is being staged by Digital Kitbag in association with The Scotsman in Edinburgh on 30 April. For details and to register go to