02.23.201610 min read

A Mobile Friendly Website—The Always-Updated Basic Survival Guide for Google’s Mobile Algorithm

by Ryan Eland

Google’s August 2016 interstitial (pop-up ad) mobile-friendly announcement

In August 2016, Google announced a major algorithm update focused on obtrusive interstitials. Ignoring this update could significantly impact your ranking on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). One additional minor change is Google is removing the “mobile-friendly” label in search results since nearly 85 percent of search results now meet this criteria.

What the heck is an interstitial?!

For us average folk, an interstitial is anything that interrupts what a person coming to your website expected to see. A common example is clicking on a blog post in a search result only to have a pop-up ad interrupt your reading experience.

Here are some illustrated examples via Google’s post:

instrusive pop up.png 

Here are some examples that Google gives:

  • Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

Why is Google penalizing pop-ups?

Google’s primary concern is preserving a pristine user experience for its customers and end-users. Their search algorithm exists to help people find relevant, useful content that meets a person’s search criteria quickly and efficiently. Google has deemed interstitials to be a bad user experience that gets in the way immediately accessible content that meets the search criteria.

Are all pop-ups going to be penalized?

No. Google will allow pop-ups in certain situations. Here are some examples that will not impact your search rankings:

  • Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage or for age verification.
  • Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable. For example, this would include private content such as email or unindexable content that is behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. For example, the app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome are examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.

Here’s an illustration of what those might look like via Google’s post:

cookie usage.png 

Google is calling these responsibly used interstitials.

Why is this important?

Mobile is the future. There’s no way around that and the data is irrefutable. People coming to your website are coming via mobile at increasingly higher rates. As Small Business Trends reports, “A comScore report says smartphones and tablets combined now account for 6o percent of all online traffic up from 50 percent a year ago.”

If you do not pay attention and respond to Google’s continual changes to their mobile algorithm, you will lose out on traffic and fall behind your competitors.

What should I do about my pop ups?

  1. Take inventory of any pop-ups you have on any pages of your site. If you use common platforms like SumoMe or LeadPages, you should be able to see them all in one place.
  2. Determine whether or not they meet Google’s “used responsibly” standards.
  3. Craft alternative strategies for each of those pop-ups that are not used responsibly according to Google’s standards.
  4. Implement those strategies. This could be creating new opt-in areas that are part of the page rather than a pop-up, utilizing retargeting ads to push to opt-in pages, etc. Here are some examples from social triggers (just don’t use No. 7!).
  5. Test, test, and test some more. Once you make the needed changes, make sure to run split tests to find out what’s working and what’s not regarding opt-ins and conversions. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a better method than your original pop-up one.

Google’s April 2015 mobile-friendly (responsive or mobile-dedicated site) announcement

In April 2015, Google announced a major algorithm update focused on mobile sites. 

This update is as significant as Panda and Penguin. The goal of the update is to increase the use of mobile design and responsive design for websites. The driving idea is to give mobile users a better experience when surfing the web. 

So how is Google going to do this?

Google uses a sophisticated algorithm to determine how a page ranks in the search results. Over the years, this algorithm has increased in complexity by orders of magnitudes. There are about 200 factors that determine how a website ranks. Google gives different “weights” to these factors, and changes these weights frequently.

With the most recent update, Google is heavily weighting the presence of a mobile friendly website when determining how a website should rank on mobile devices. 

So what does this mean for me?

This means that if you don’t want to see a decrease in mobile search traffic, then you need to make sure that your website is mobile friendly. Read on to find out if you should consider upgrading building a mobile responsive website. 

How can I tell if I get a lot of mobile search traffic?

Chances are relatively good that your website is getting it’s fair share of mobile traffic. You can determine this by following these steps:

Step 1: Go to Google Analytics for your website.

Don’t have Google Analytics installed? Click here to find out how to install it.

Step 2: Click on the button “Add Segment” then scroll down and select the box that says “organic traffic.”

You should see a second orange line indicating your organic traffic. You can select to remove “All Sessions” traffic by clicking the down arrow in the top right corner of this box. 

Step 3: In the left menu under “audience,” click “mobile” then click “overview”

This will display the total amount of organic mobile search traffic to your website. This is the number that will see a reduction if your website is not mobile-friendly.

How can I tell if my website is mobile friendly?

A quick way to determine if your website is mobile friendly is to use this tool by Google. Insert your website exactly as it appears in your browser URL window, then click “Analyze.” 

Remember to do this for each webpage on your website that you want to optimize.

My site was not mobile friendly before the update. What should I do?

If you were not able to make your website mobile friendly before April 21, we have good news. Reports indicate that this update will be “real-time.” This means that as soon as Google receives signals that your site is mobile-friendly, you will begin to benefit from the algorithm. 

In times past, if a website was penalized, it was notoriously difficult to regain ranking. This will likely not be the case for this specific update. 

Do I need to make all my pages mobile friendly?

The short answer is no. Google decides on a page-by-page basis what to rank. If most of your website is optimized for mobile and you have a few pages that are not, then those non-mobile pages won’t bring down the rest of your website. 

This means that you can focus on your most important pages first, and work to upgrade over time. 

I want to make my website mobile friendly—what next?

If you use a platform like WordPress, it may be as simple as finding a new theme that supports responsive design.

A responsive website takes into consideration the device that is currently displaying the site and displays the site correctly on that device. Google considers websites that are “responsive” to be mobile friendly. In fact, over the long-term, it is best to invest in making your website responsive instead of setting up a separate, mobile-friendly version of your website. 

This keeps things focused and simple from a content and link perspective. 

If you have a custom-built website, then you may need to hire a responsive design professional to help you. This can be a large or small investment depending on the size and complexity of your website. 

This is a great opportunity for you to support a local small design and web business.

Main points

    • The update will NOT bring a permanent penalty if your website was not mobile friendly by April 21, 2015. 
    • The update will only affect mobile search traffic.
    • The update works on a page-by-page basis and only penalizes specific pages that are not mobile-friendly.
    • We recommend using responsive design instead of building a separate mobile-friendly website. 
SEO Basics - Download Now

Ryan Eland has never escaped the world of small business—and not that he would ever want to. He loves small business and he loves helping small businesses succeed through SEO. He has extensive experience in the highly-competitive online verticals of higher education degrees and online medical training. He also owns a CPR training website for new parents called www.infantcpr.com. But secretly, Ryan is a writer at heart, which is why we have him blog for us. 

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