Tomorrow, April 21, Google is going to be rolling out one of the biggest algorithm changes in years.

Expected to have a larger impact than either of the biggest updates in the past few years, Panda and Penguin, despite the fact that it will only impact searches done on smartphones. The importance of this update is so great that many are already calling it ‘Mobilegeddon’ and ‘Phonepocalypse’.

What does the update mean?

Mobile optimization has been a ranking signal for some time, but now it is going to be a much larger one. Websites that are designed for mobile and display correctly on those devices will find their search ranks improved, while the opposite is true for websites lacking a mobile version.

On their February announcement of this update, Google spelled out exactly what this means for webmasters. In order to benefit from this update, websites must:

  • Feature a mobile-optimized design. Among other things, users should not need to zoom or scroll horizontally, font size should scale automatically, and elements should be easy to touch and not too close-together. The Webmaster Tools Mobile Usability report will give you a full list of current issues with your web design.
  • Be viewable on modern devices. This means that all technologies used by your website must be modern and universally supported. Flash, for example, is a common technology that isn’t, and would harm your website’s ranking under the new update.
  • Feature a correct mobile redirect system. For example, an interior desktop page should not redirect a mobile user to a mobile version of the homepage, it needs to redirect to a mobile version of the originally loaded page.
  • Be error free for smartphone and tablet users. There are a variety of mobile-specific errors and issues that can crop up, and they need to be fixed. You can check to see if your website has any major issues in the Crawl Errors report in Webmaster Tools.

To quickly check whether your website meets these guidelines, use Google’s Mobile-Friendly test.

So why such a big deal?

Mobile Web Optimization

Currently, 60% of online traffic is mobile, and that number is continuing to increase. Google, in their endless quest to offer more relevant search results, has long recognized the need to cater to this segment. They want to ensure that searchers using their search engine from a mobile device to find relevant results, and a large part of that is making sure they land on a website they can use and read. Reflecting this, the update will slash mobile traffic tomorrow to any domain that doesn’t offer a quality mobile experience.

Undoubtedly many small businesses and organizations will learn of this in the coming weeks only after they notice a drastic drop in traffic from search engines. Surprisingly, many big brands appear to be poised to suffer as well; many giants, such as Ryanair, The Daily Mail, American Apparel, and Windows Phone, don’t currently offer a mobile friendly experience.

All of this said, there is a large upside in this update for anyone already sporting a responsive design or developing one. This update is an opportunity to leapfrog poorly optimized competitors in search results.

Take this update as Google meant it — urgent motivation to perfect your website’s mobile experience.

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