Conducting a Google search from your smartphone or tablet is about to get easier. Google will soon make some big changes to the algorithm that determines the results you see when you conduct a Google search from a mobile device. Reporting for Computerworld, Sharon Gaudin notes that because Google dominates the search market — with a market share of approximately 75% — the shift will make a significant change in the world of mobile search. The algorithm change will go into effect on April 21, and affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide.
The change will improve the experience of users searching from mobile devices, as websites that are optimized for mobile begin to rise in the search results. At the same time, websites that aren’t mobile-friendly will take a hit, and Google has warned that the algorithm change will make a “significant impact in our search results.” In a February post on its Webmaster Central blog, titled “Finding more mobile-friendly search results,” Google explained:
When it comes to search on mobile devices, users should get the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps. As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns. In the past, we’ve made updates to ensure a site is configured properly and viewable on modern devices. We’ve made it easier for users to find mobile-friendly web pages and we’ve introduced App Indexing to surface useful content from apps.
To help users discover more mobile-friendly content, Google will expand its use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal so that users will find it easier to get relevant, high-quality search results that are optimized for mobile devices. Google has also begun using information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for users who have the app installed. Google searches on a mobile device can now surface content from indexed apps more prominently.
Gaudin notes that Google didn’t specify, and would not comment on, what exactly is changing in the mobile search algorithm, which encompasses the processes used to look through web content to find what the user is looking for. But some have doubts about the effects that the change will have on the search results that mobile users see.
Dan Olds, an analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group, told Computerworld, “The problem is that not every website is configured to be mobile friendly.” He explained, “Some are set up to be way too large for a mobile screen or too difficult to navigate. With this announcement, Google is saying that when they sense that a mobile user is running a search, they’re going to rank sites that are mobile device optimized above others.”
The change will affect what users see at the top of their mobile search results, and could see websites moving up or down dramatically in the search rankings in unexpected ways. “This could dramatically change search results in some cases,” Olds says. “It might allow a mobile-optimized second-tier player to get a jump on larger competitors who have not configured their site for mobile yet. We’ll probably hear about specific cases as the new algorithm comes into broad usage.” Karsten Weide, an analyst with IDC, says that most mobile users probably won’t notice an obvious change, but Google will likely perform better for frequent mobile users, enabling it to gain more traffic and therefore more ad sales.
Fast Company’s David Lumb reports that a period of upheaval generally follows the updates to Google’s search engine algorithm. Google’s “Panda” update in 2011 raised the rankings of sites with quality content, while decreasing the rankings of those with excessive advertising, raising the profile of social media and news websites. And the company’s Penguin update in 2012, saw the rankings of sites that engaged in blatant search engine optimization tactics drop dramatically.
Lumb notes that Google does forewarn the Internet when a change is about to take place, and of how it will change results — unlike Facebook, which incites “bedlam” with its algorithm changes, forcing brands and content organizations to adjust as their traffic suddenly drops.
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