On May 11, 2016, Google “finished” rolling out its second mobile rankings update. Today we’re publishing the results of our study to measure the impact of this new algo update. Google’s first mobile update was a big one, was this one as significant?
To find out, we took a baseline measurement of over 18,000 mobile queries between April 27th and April 29th to get a snapshot of rankings prior to the update. Then we took a set of follow-up measurements between May 25th and May 27th. We waited two weeks after the update’s completion because it was our understanding that Google has to re-crawl pages before the new algo is actually applied. As a result, we gave it some time to fully take hold.
So here it is in a nutshell: this update didn’t seem to have much of a measurable impact. Our measurements saw a nearly equivalent number of positive or negative changes to mobile-friendly v.s non-mobile friendly URLs.
However, this doesn’t mean that no update happened, or that it wasn’t significant. It just means that other aspects of Google’s normal churn in the search results were big enough during the same timeline that the impact of this new ranking’s boost wasn’t easily perceived. I’ll detail more about this below. In addition, there are other reasons why this update is very significant, and I’ll dig into those more as well.
The Detailed Data
We measured the data in two different ways. First, we examined the changes in the composition of the top 10 results. Here is what we saw:
In short, across the 18,000+ search queries we tested, about 74% of the top 10 consisted of mobile-friendly URLs. After the update, this grew only slightly, to 75%. As noted above, a very nominal change indeed.
We also looked at the data a second way. In this approach, we tracked all the URLs that were in the top 10 during April 27th to 29th and saw where they moved to after the update in our May 25th to May 27th measurements. Here is what we saw as a result of that measurement:
So mobile-friendly URLs did fare slightly better than non-mobile-friendly URLs. But, even so, more of the mobile-friendly URLs that were in the original top 10 lost ranking than gained in ranking.
What this tells us is that other general ranking tweaks made by Google carried more weight during the same time period (for these 18,000+ queries) than the mobile-friendly update.
Why This Update is Still Significant
Google’s first update occurred on April 21, 2015. This one has had a much bigger impact, as you can see from our original study, and the following chart:
So why was evidence of impact in this update so much smaller. Did the update event matter? I believe that it still was important.
The update’s very existence makes it noteworthy. The reason is that Google tests many different types of algorithms, and many of these are retired as not being effective. When Google has gained confidence in an algorithm, they take steps to tweak and enhance that algorithm, often many times.
In addition, they’ve already committed to adding page speed as a ranking factor in a future mobile update as well. Gary Illyes indicated that at Search Marketing Summit in Sydney. Here is what Jennifer Slegg wrote about it:
At Search Marketing Summit Sydney today, Gary Illyes confirmed that page speed will be a factor in the next mobile friendly update. Google has long talked about wanting to make page speed a mobile friendly factor, but this is the first time someone from Google has confirmed that it is actually coming.
I also asked Illyes when this would be coming, and he first said he didn’t want to give a date, which is understandable. But when I asked if we could expect it on months or years, he said that he would expect to see it within “months”.
This makes it clear that there are more mobile updates to come, and that new ranking factors will begin to be added into the mix.
The concept of altering rankings for Smartphone users has proven to be a solid one for Google, and there will be more updates to it in the future. The addition of page speed as a factor in the planned update referred to by Google is but one example of Google planning to add additional factors. Don’t be surprised if you see more such new factors in the future.
Why Is Google Paying So Much Attention to Mobile Friendliness?
Personally, I believe that one of the reasons Google makes its mobile update plans so public is that they are trying to motivate publishers to do a better job with their mobile websites.
While one recent Morgan Stanley report suggests that mobile web traffic is growing twice as fast as traffic to apps, that doesn’t tell the whole story, as that’s a pure traffic view.
When you look at the data from a time-spent perspective, data from comScore tells us that 80% of time on mobile devices is spent within apps. comScore also released another report that shows that 44% of all digital media time (including desktop time) is spent in apps.
While that same report (the second comScore one) shows that Google is a strong player in the app market with 5 of the top 10 installed apps, a shift from the mobile web to apps doesn’t favor Google as much as it would seem.
For that reason, it makes a ton of sense for Google to incentivize publishers to make their mobile web experiences better. Expect more of it in the future, and know that this creates an opportunity for you.
Google Mobile Update History Infographic
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Eric Enge leads the Digital Marketing practice for Perficient Digital. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO. Learn More About Eric Enge