Recent Google Algorithm Update and Rankings Changes

There’s been a lot of keyword ranking fluctuations in the past couple of weeks.  Lots of speculation on whether Google is making changes surrounding Panda, Penguin, or something having to do with mobile perhaps.  Well, Google has just confirmed this is not Penguin or Panda, but something else.

The thing that makes the most sense is that Google is making changes to their algorithm to better serve mobile search results.  They’ve been sending out messages to sites for weeks now, warnings about sites not being “mobile-friendly”.  So that’s where I wanted to look for any possible correlations between keyword ranking changes and mobile friendly sites.

Google Wants Mobile-Friendly Sites

Noticing Patterns in Ranking Changes and Mobile Friendliness

The first thing I looked at were sites with a mobile version or responsive design versus sites that had neither and then compare keyword ranking fluctuations.  There really wasn’t anything there…

Then I noticed that there seemed to be a pattern between sites with a responsive design (not a mobile version of the site) and increases in rankings.  No such pattern was found looking at sites with no responsive design or mobile version — they were sort of all over the place, some increasing in rankings and others decreasing.  What was really interesting is that it seems sites with a mobile version are actually showing the most decreases in rankings.

But there still wasn’t a clear-cut pattern between mobile, non-mobile, and responsive.  For instance, we have a couple of clients that increased in rankings quite a bit which do not offer a responsive design or mobile version.

Still, I thought there was something to this, so I went deeper into actual visitor performance metrics for mobile users.


Negative Mobile User Experience Might Mean Lower Rankings

I analyzed the 3 most common visitor performance metrics – Avg. Pages/Session, Avg. Bounce Rates, and Avg. Visit Duration.

Instead of looking for site’s that had particularly low visitor performance on mobile devices, I wanted to find the difference between a site’s desktop visitor performance versus their mobile visitor performance.

While there seems to be plenty of correlation between rankings changes and mobile performance using all 3 metrics, I found that the strongest correlation for changes in keyword rankings was with Avg. Pages/Session.

Keyword Ranking Changes and Mobile Visitor Performance

The graph above shows the Keyword Ranking Changes (in blue) and the Average PageViews Difference between Mobile and Desktop (in orange).  For keyword rankings, we used SEMRush to look at increases and decreases in keyword rankings for a given site between Feb. 1st and Feb. 5th.  We also noted the New and Lost keywords during that timeframe.  For Average Pageviews, we compared the difference between Mobile and Desktop users in Google Analytics.

The two sites with the sharp decreases in keyword rankings (Sites 5 & 6), are also the two with a crazy high differential between the visitor performance of their desktop visitors vs. their mobile visitors.


Key Takeaway

I want to note that this is not about having a responsive design (although, you should have a responsive site if you don’t already….).  I believe Google doesn’t care if your site serves a mobile version, has a responsive design, or nothing at all.  Google is simply trying to deliver the best search results.  Regardless of mobile-friendliness, Google wants its mobile users to find the sites they’re looking for.  And Google has all the data they need to know if your site is providing a solid user experience to mobile users.

Related Article: Check out the latest mobile marketing stats and Google mobile updates

Obviously, this is still speculation, these numbers and small sample size still leave us with questions.  But one thing I will say is that we will be using this number (Avg. PageViews Mobile Desktop Differential) as a benchmark for all our clients.  I strongly believe that if you can have this number at -20%, as opposed to something like -49%, your site will either not be effected by these new algorithm changes or your site will benefit.

I urge you to look at these metrics for your site(s) and share your results!

Clint Henderson

Clint Henderson

Inbound Marketing Strategist at Wired SEO
Seasoned internet marketing consultant, founder of Wired SEO, digital marketing company specializing in SEO, Paid Search, and Social Media Marketing.
Clint Henderson
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