Mobilegeddon: Estimating the Impact

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two months, you’re aware that Google, back in February, announced that effective April 21 of this year, sites that it does not consider “mobile-friendly” will see their rankings suffer when mobile searchers perform queries relevant to them.

Google’s announcement created a major stir in the SEO, Internet marketing, and webmaster communities; the 4/21 date was quickly dubbed “mobilegeddon,” or, alternatively, the “mopocalypse,” and Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test page quickly became a popular destination for agencies, webmasters, and SEOs eager to assess their sites’ vulnerability to the upcoming algo change.

While nobody outside of Google can say what exactly the effects will be on mobile traffic (Google has only said that the change will have “a significant impact” on its search results and these changes will “affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide),” my team has been looking at selected industry verticals to assess the possible impact.

Here are some highlights from we’ve learned thus far:

1. Large (S&P 100) Companies

Sites maintained by large-cap companies listed on the S&P index fared comparatively well on Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. Seventy-five of the 100 sites we tested passed with flying colors. Technology companies (Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Intel, etc.) were universally mobile-friendly. The 25 sites that failed came from numerous non-tech categories (Energy, Healthcare, Defense); their failing grades were based on having text too small to read, links set too closely together, mobile viewports not being set, content wider than permitted by the mobile screen, and blocking Google’s crawler from parsing their resources.

2. Large PR Agencies

We looked at the 96 largest U.S. PR agencies because we reasoned that people in the communications business would take special care to make sure their offerings would be equally accessible on all computer platforms. Unfortunately, we found that only 57.3 of PR agency sites passed Google’s test. These results suggest that PR agencies need to up their game a bit in terms of deploying sites that cater as much to the needs of mobile searchers as to their desktop-bound brethren.

3. New York Advertising Agency Sites

Advertising sites typically render beautifully on desktop displays, but only 73 percent of the 104 New York-based agency sites passed Google’s mobile-friendly test. It appears that many agencies still are challenged by the demands of the small mobile screen, and may need to rethink the tradeoff they’ve made between creative flash and mobile functionality.

4. Large-Cap Companies on Long Island (One of Our Stomping Grounds, So We Did an Analysis)

We looked at the websites of large-cap companies on Long Island to get a glimpse of mobilegeddon’s effect on businesses in a local economy. Of 56 sites tested, only 12 passed, yielding a dismal 21 percent success rate. We are unable to find a compelling reason explaining why so many of these sites were not mobile-friendly.

5. Top-Rated New York Hospital Sites

We also looked at the top 52 hospital sites in the New York area as rated by U.S. News & World report, and were again dismayed by what we found. Only 21 sites passed the mobile-friendly test, leading to the second worst sector performance (40 percent) in any group tested. We do not know why so many hospital sites did so poorly.

5. U.S. Government Sites

Of the top 10 most popular government sites, six out of 10 passed Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test (unfortunately, IRS.gov didn’t, so if you’re looking up information for your April 15 filing, please use a desktop). We also tested state government portal sites, and found that 76 percent of them were mobile-friendly. This performance is on par with performance in the private sector.

What It Means

While the results from this set of studies cannot be extrapolated beyond the particular industry sectors evaluated, it’s clear that the April 21 changes will be materially felt, and that certain firms (and government entities) are much better prepared than others for what’s ahead.

While April 21 is less than two weeks away, the good news is that in many cases, any repair work you’ll need to do (or have your IT team do) can be accomplished in a short time.

Don’t let your marketing teammates (in-house or agency), or IT team if your organization is old-school as to who owns the Web presence, tell you that it’s OK to be mobile-unfriendly since “none of our customers look for us on mobile devices.” That’s unlikely to be true. Losing visibility in the SERP is only part of the reason to become adaptive. People navigating to you directly also deserve a good experience. Plus if you are buying AdWords, your mobile quality score will go up if you have an adaptive design/mobile-friendly site.

My advice to you is to take Google’s Mobile-Friendly test for yourself to evaluate your site’s fitness vis-a-vis its competitors. Even if your mix of mobile traffic is low right now, mobile traffic will eventually overtake desktop traffic, and mobile users are increasingly using their devices for purchase – and pre-purchase/research/due diligence tasks. That means getting your Web properties mobile-friendly – soon.

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