In their February announcement, Google said that starting on April 21st 2015 it would start placing more importance on whether or not a website is "mobile-friendly" when returning search results on mobile devices. Because it is unusual for Google to announce changes in it's algorithm in advance, and because it said the change would have a "significant impact" on search results, this date came to be known as "Mobilegeddon" within the industry.
As a result of the seeming importance of this update, many people rushed to convert their mobile-friendly websites to responsive designs (a design that adapts to display optimally on any screen size) so that they would not suffer a drop in their rankings. According to Google, there are 4.7% more mobile-friendly websites today than there were two months ago when Google first announced their plans. We advised some clients that since only a very small percentage of their website's visitors were using mobile devices (something that can be ascertained when using Google Analytics), that it was not essential that they convert, even though it would be sensible to aim to do so in the future.
Despite Google's warnings, and the frenzy of activity that followed, the impact of this change seems to be relatively small so far. For most websites the effect on their rankings in searches on mobile devices seems to be small, and some websites saw a drop in rankings for only some pages - an impact that is anything but "significant". In fact, a study by Mockingbird found that of 59 websites tracked, average daily traffic from searches performed on mobile devices was 8% greater for mobile-optimized websites, and 4% less on non-optimized websites. This is backed up by Google's own admission: "While the mobile-friendly change is important...even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query."
There have of course been previous occasions when some website owners rushed to comply with new guidelines when Google announced changes to it's algorithms (such as when it announced that secure websites would gain an advantage), with very little benefit subsequently observed. However, Google ranks pages of your website using hundreds of different "signals" and while it is unlikely that any single one of these can dramatically affect your rankings, when you follow Google's guidelines for most or all of them your rankings will benefit. It is therefore still important to take note of Google's announcements and make changes when possible - every small percentage gain in rankings can have a significant effect on the success of a website.
Trends suggest that the number of searches being performed on smartphones is only going to increase. It is also likely that this algorithm update from Google is only the first iteration of their plans, and that mobile-friendliness will become more important in the future. Indeed, in a recent Google Hang-Out Google's John Mueller seems to have implied that the reason this update did not result in more significant changes was because less websites became mobile-friendly than expected. We therefore recommend that all new websites should be mobile-friendly from the beginning, and that owners of existing websites should strongly consider converting theirs to a responsive design at some point in the near future.
Last updated: 27th May, 2015