Upcoming changes to Google’s mobile search rankings

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Last week Google announced a few upcoming changes to their algorithm for mobile search.

To provide the best results possible, Google continuously tweak their search algorithm. The algorithm decides your position on results pages based on many on-page and off-page ranking factors. Google keeps the exact algorithm secret. This might sound unfair but it’s with good reason. It allows Google to maintain an edge over their competitors. It also prevents website owners from gaming the system.

Because Google cloud their algorithm in secrecy, when they do make an announcement about upcoming changes, it’s worth taking note!

Mobile search friendly label

You may remember in 2014 Google added mobile-friendly labels to their mobile search results. The idea was to promote websites that provided an optimised experience for mobile devices – with text that was readable without zooming and tap sizes that were appropriately sized and spaced.

Two years on and over 85% of websites now meet this criteria. Google are removing this label from their search results to provide a cleaner results page. Although they’re removing it from the interface it will continue to be used as a ranking factor.

They’ll continue to provide the mobile usability report in Search Console and the mobile-friendly test to help website owners evaluate their pages.

Goodbye popups and overlays

From 10th January 2017, Google will be penalising websites that use intrusive interstitials. Interstitials are adverts that appear before page content is shown. This is a trick used by website owners to promote their mailing list or to show full screen adverts. Content is still available to Google but is visually obscured for users.

In their announcement Google said:

Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.

So what does this exactly include:

Mobile Search changes | iWeb

  • Showing a popup that covers the main content. This could either be on load or while browsing the page.
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that users must dismiss before accessing content.
  • Using a layout where the content “above-the-fold” appears as though it is a standalone interstitial.

Here are some examples that will not be affected by the new ranking factor:

Mobile Search changes | iWeb

  • Interstitials that appear in response to legal obligations. These include cookie policies or age verification.
  • Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly accessible. For example, content behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space that can easily be dismissed. An example of these are the app install banners used on Safari and Chrome.

All these changes will come into effect on 10th January 2017. Remember this is only one of many ranking factors used to decide the position of a website. Google’s intention is to provide their users with a fast, secure and good user experience for browsing the web on mobile devices.

For more information read the full announcement on the Google Webmaster Central Blog.

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