It’s now two years since Google added what they refer to as a “mobile-friendly” label to their search algorithm. This was intended to help users find mobile friendly pages where they did not have to zoom in, and the pages were readable on smaller screen devices. Users reacted well to this change as 48% of us reported we were frustrated to land on a site that was not easily readable on a mobile device.
Since then the system has enhanced substantially and it is now estimated 85% of the webpages that appear when a user makes a mobile search are mobile friendly. Google continues to work on improving the system, and mobile friendly continues to be an important ranking signal.
Split and Mobile First Indexing
At the Las Vegas October 2016 Pubcon summit, Google’s Gary Illyes announced Google are working on dividing the index between mobile and desktop instead of mixing the results, and the mobile index will be considered primary.
Like his predecessor Matt Cutts, Mr. Illyes did not give away too many details. No specific timeline was given, but he hinted the changes were fairly imminent and would take place within a matter of months.
In November 2016, Google were more forthcoming, and announced officially on their webmasters blog that because more users are now performing searches on mobile devices than desktops, they will be adopting a “mobile-first indexing” approach. The company are still experimenting, but are giving more importance to the SEO results from their mobile friendly index instead of the current desktop search results.
Experiments are beginning on a small scale, but as of the second week in November, some webmasters reported large fluctuations in rankings, which usually correlates with the testing and roll out of algorithm updates.
In addition, Google has announced it will start reducing ranks for sites that display intrusive pop-ups on mobile devices, starting 10th January 2017. With so many searches done on mobiles these days (it is estimated at least 70%) we can’t afford to ignore this latest update.
A penalty will be given on any site where Google determines that a pop-up is used to cover the main content. They describe this as “intrusive insertials”. Intrusive insertials include pop-ups that display as soon as a visitor lands on the site or while they are initially scrolling through content; insertials that need to be clicked away in order to get to the content on a page, and also layouts that include a huge graphic often referred to as a “welcome mat” that requires users have to scroll down past the fold to access the content of the page.
The following examples of intrusive popups are published on the Google webmasters blog:
The first shows a popup partially covering content, the second a popup obscuring all content that needs to be clicked away to proceed, and the third a welcome mat.
Popups for legal reasons or notifications about cookies are acceptable.
There is no need to make changes immediately, as down ranking sites with popups will not begin until January 10th 2017, and many business owners rely on popups to increase email signups; they are more than 1300% more effective for getting subscribers than a sidebar form.
We are looking at alternatives to the usual popup, such as those that only appear after the reader has read a certain amount of content. Because they do not hide the content of a page as soon as, or soon after the visitor arrives on a site, they should be acceptable in Google’s eyes.