Google changes to mobile rankings brings the snake oil salesmen out again

It is endlessly fascinating to see how the SEO industry reacts to changes which Google makes to the way they rank sites. In part it is understandable as it directly affects what we do for a living but what continues to disappoint me is the way in which people then prey on the ignorance of others to further their own ends.

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Take for example the latest change which Google have announced;

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“Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”

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Google have long been championing the role of mobile in search even going to the trouble of telling everyone in October 2011 that they would actively promote any website that was responsive over non responsive sites in PPC results on mobiles. The changes that they have now announced are therefore just a logical extension of what has gone before.

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In Webmaster Tools they have been inserting a message for any sites which are not mobile friendly saying that;

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“These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.”

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What they have NOT said anywhere is that they will drop your website from search. Nor in fact that you website will suddenly disappear from mobile searches. Or even that they are definitely going to penalise and demote your website in mobile search.

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Google LogoSo imagine my disappointment when over the past week we have seen a number of firms, some who should really know better, sending out blanket emails and writing blog posts warning of dire consequences for anyone who does not comply with the latest Google dictat. And luckily they have just the solution you need, at a price.

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One firm even emailed me warning that my site could “plummet down the mobile search rankings” but I was fortunate that they had the solution in which their experts could save my site.

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Anyone who does this is preying on the ignorance and vulnerability of small businesses and Google frankly aren’t helping the piece either. They are directing everyone to this page speed tool to check your own website https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/  but frankly it is causing as much confusion as it is helping.

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We recently tested a client site against this before go live just a couple of weeks ago and it passed with flying colours and a score of over 80/100. Today it is ranked as poor. This week it has given us different results on the same day for the same site when nothing had changed. In fact we have done nothing at all to this site for the last three days yet got results of 29, 19 and 43 out of 100 for mobile speed.

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Moreover websites that are being flagged as ‘poor’ on the Google tool are ranking well in mobile PPC precisely because they are mobile optimised. The reality is that there is nothing wrong with them.

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Given this level of confusion from Google’s own resources it is hardly a surprise that the snake oil salesmen have slithered into the light.

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Much of the sales rhetoric surrounds the fear of what might happen on April 21st but it misses a number of important points.

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Firstly no one seems to be examining how much business they are actually driving from mobile and this is critical. Many of the sites we work with have less than 20% of their total traffic from mobile and tablets and in ecommerce terms some of those drive less than 10% of their total revenues from the mobile platform. Weighing that potential revenue loss (and it is only potential, not actual) against the cost of upgrading is an important consideration.

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Secondly Google has said it will change their mobile search results, but to what?  As an example if all ten sites in a standard search return are not responsive will that significantly change the search result? Their aim is to return the best result as well as the best user experience but no one has yet qualified how they are going to do this. If the first ‘responsive’ site at position 11 doesn’t answer the search query will it be returned at position one or will they still serve up those sites that have the answer even if they are not fully responsive?

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Finally whilst we are being told that things need to change I see very few people offering any advice on what you need to change and how. Google’s own tool, despite its failings, does give decent advice and guidance so anyone with any technical knowledge will be able to make the changes themselves.

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In fact most sites we’ve reviewed so far seem perfectly capable of appearing well in search after April 21st with very minor changes being made. There will of course be exceptions but the majority of sites should still be able to rank in mobile search at the end of April.

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We included this as a large warning in our latest report to clients advising that doing nothing is no longer an option. Everyone should be looking at this and establishing what, if anything, they need to do. But the crux of our message is ‘what if anything’ needs to be done.

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In many cases the current website will be fit for purpose and needs no changes. So don’t go falling for the charms of the snake oil salesman without first checking with a professional first.