The Impact of Google’s Mobile-Friendly Update

When Google announced that mobile-friendly sites would receive preferential ranking in mobile search results, many website owners scrambled to adjust. The search giant typically tends to keep their search engine ranking factors somewhat close to the vest, providing vague hints at what factors may be considered in their rankings. But this announcement couldn’t have been more explicit: mobile-friendly sites would receive a boost in mobile search rankings. By extension, sites that are not mobile-friendly will likely see their rankings fall.

Let’s clarify some of the basic details about this update:

  1. This update only affects searches conducted on mobile devices. Searches conducted on desktops or tablets are not impacted by this change.
  2. Being mobile-friendly is one of many ranking factors. Relevance and content quality are still essential.The difference after Google’s latest update is that all things (relevance, content quality, domain authority) being equal, a mobile-friendly site will rank higher than a non-mobile-friendly site.
  3. This update applies to individual pages, not full websites. A site that has limited mobile content will likely see a boost to the mobile-optimized pages. Any pages of the site that are not mobile-friendly will not receive a boost.

The prospect of a lower Google ranking is enough to make anyone nervous but before going into a full-blown panic, it’s important to have an idea of the actual impact this could have on your site’s traffic. There are some questions to consider and research to conduct specific to your website.

How much of your site’s overall traffic is currently coming from mobile visitors?

Estimates vary quite a bit. Some suggest that mobile traffic could account for as much as 60% of site traffic, though mobile traffic on law firm websites has been estimated to be roughly 20-30%. Our findings among our clients’ sites suggest that number may even be a bit generous, as the average tends to hover between 10-15%. Those numbers would be higher if you counted tablets among those statistics, but tablets are not impacted by Google’s mobile update, so they are not considered mobile devices for this purpose either.

Google Mobile Update

Google Analytics report showing percentages of desktop/mobile/tablet traffic

This screenshot shows where you can find this information on your firm’s website in Google Analytics.

After determining how much mobile device traffic your site receives, the next step is determining the percentage of mobile traffic that comes from search. This can be done in Google Analytics by applying additional filters to the report shown above. Typically, search traffic accounts for roughly 50% of site traffic, though that number can vary greatly as well. For the sake of this exercise, we’ll use the 50% number.

So, if your site receives 10,000 visitors per month and your site’s numbers are consistent with those shown above, the number of monthly mobile visitors coming to your site through Google search results would be about 500 per month, or 5% of your overall site traffic.

How important is search traffic to your firm?

For some firms, search traffic and ranking highly in search engines is vital to their business. For others, their site’s rank for certain keywords is relatively inconsequential, as long as it comes up in search results when someone is searching for their firm name.

For the latter group, this mobile search results update is likely much ado about nothing. For the firms that rely heavily on search engine traffic, hopefully you already have a mobile-friendly site.

Answering these questions is an important step in determining the necessity of whether your firm needs a mobile-friendly site. What these questions do not address is the issue of user experience. Google does not make changes to their search ranking algorithm arbitrarily. This recent update is no exception. They are giving a boost to mobile-friendly sites simply because it provides a better user experience. And so the final question becomes: Are you currently providing a good user experience to your mobile visitors?

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