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Google’s Big Mobile-Friendly Push Actually Worked

The SEO world has been talking for months about Google’s new mobile search algorithm, which gives mobile-friendly websites an advantage in mobile search results. However, until the update actually rolled out no one knew exactly what kind of effect it would have—and it had a surprising one.

All Aboard the Mobile Express

Prior to the algorithm going live in mid-April, it would have been easy to assume that its main effect would be punitive. In other words, all the businesses out there that haven’t built mobile-friendly websites would drop in the rankings on mobile devices, effectively being penalized. And to a large extend that is indeed what happened.

But Google’s update didn’t just shake up the search results. It turns out it also drove business behavior. In the two months since the update was announced, Google says it saw a 4.7 percent increase in the proportion of mobile-friendly websites.

That’s huge. 4.7 percent may not sound like a lot, but bear in mind that’s out of all the websites Google has ever indexed. That includes abandoned blogs from years ago, businesses without tech teams, and sites that are never maintained or updated. Out of that giant sea, nearly 1 in 20 fish changed its scales.

Winners and Losers

Of course, not every website changed—either because they didn’t get the message, didn’t care, or were already optimized for mobile devices. And that means that when the April 21 deadline rolled around, some companies found themselves with huge ranking boosts and others at the bottom of the heap.

Search Engine Land has gathered data tracking some of those winners and losers. One of the sites that lost the most was Reddit, which really shouldn’t be a surprise: a maze of tiny comments, minuscule sidebars, and almost untouchable tap zones, it’s an object lesson in how not to make a mobile site. And that design flaw is so important to Google that it undermined the site’s high site rank, sinking it down through the search results for important keywords.

(I doubt that will decrease Reddit’s traffic much, as it’s a tight community, but it might be a signal to the site owners that it’s time for a facelift.)

Working Together

No matter how a site fared in the update, no one can say they weren’t warned. And that’s ultimately why we saw a nearly 5 percent shift—because Google gave everyone months of notice and made compliance easy.

That’s a profoundly different approach than past updates, which often emerged as “gotchas” overnight. This time around, Google decided to put its cards on the table and tell us exactly where it was going. As a result, there were no nasty surprises and the internet is more mobile-friendly than ever.

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