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‘Mobilegeddon’: Is it SEO suicide to have an unresponsive website?

by Andreas Voniatis Founder. Fractional SEO Consultant.


What is ‘mobilegeddon’ and does it matter to me?

‘Mobilegeddon’ refers to Google’s announcement on the 26th February that they would favour websites that are optimised for mobile devices from the 21st April . As a result, Search Engine Land – after no doubt having watched too many apocalyptic movies – dubbed the update Mobilegeddon, because of the potentially disastrous implications for non-mobile friendly sites.

However, although the idea of ‘Mobilgeddon’ gets our pulses racing, we wanted to study whether the announcement was actually as disastrous as it seemed for companies with sites that aren’t yet mobile optimised. We wanted to find some answers: Should you dump everything and make your site as mobile friendly as possible immediately before you plummet down the search rankings? Or can you afford to wait and optimise other factors first?

We studied how the changes are playing out across three industries: wedding ecommerce, B2B marketing and corporate services industries. Here’s what we found out:

Case study one: the wedding ecommerce industry

Wedding ecommerce sites list wedding venues, photographers, and other suppliers that help make the wedding planning process go as smoothly as possible. So, if you run a wedding ecommerce store how much does it actually matter at the moment that your store is mobile optimised?

We compared wedding ecommerce sites with a wide range of rankings against their
Google mobile UX score. You can see the results below:


As you can see, and rather surprisingly, there is currently zero chance of increasing your rankings by increasing the Google mobile UX score of your site. This is indicated by the R2 score of 0. The reason for this is that there are plenty of high ranking but non-mobile optimised wedding ecommerce sites that are doing well. There are also over 200 signals used by Google to rank websites: Mobile optimisation is just one of them.

The R2 is the coefficient of determination which is the probability that rankings will increase.

Does this mean you can stick with your unresponsive wedding ecommerce site, then? Not quite. First, this is snapshot data so sites that are currently not optimised probably will be at some point, which will change the data set for the industry. A time series analysis will probably reveal a different insight in the next six months.

However, what the data does suggest is that if you have a wedding ecommerce store then you’re unlikely to be struck by mobilegeddon immediately. As a result, there may be other SEO factors that are worth prioritising before making your site mobile friendly in the very short time.

Case study two: the b2b marketing industry

Given the b2b marketing industry is in the business of providing design, websites and content marketing to b2b companies, we expected to see a clear link between mobile optimisation and increased search rankings. This is what we found:


As you can see in the diagram above, the b2b marketing industry in the UK has a positive but weak indication that mobile optimising your site now will increase your rankings. To be more precise, there is a 12% chance that you will increase your rankings in the b2b marketing space by increasing your Mobile UX score. This isn’t all that impressive: anything less than 15% is considered statistically insignificant.

So, although mobile optimising your site should be on your ‘to do’ list, it doesn’t necessarily have to be on your ‘do it now’ list.

Case study three: the corporate services industry

The corporate services industry provides legal advice, accounting experience, telephone answering services and so on to other businesses. We weren’t quite sure what to expect in this competitive industry. Here’s what we found:


The empirical evidence is quite clear: there is a significant (albeit a low) chance of increasing your ranking as a corporate services business if you mobile optimise your website. This is enough evidence to warrant placing Mobile UX high on your ‘to do’ list, even if you still want to prioritise a few other SEO items first.

How have we measured mobile friendliness?

Although we have a number of ways to measure the mobile friendliness of your site (and are working on more – watch this space!) we looked at Pagespeeds for this analysis, because this is the measure that Google recommends. Pagespeeds gives your site a score out of 100 for speed and user experience, where 100 is the best score, and suggests how you can make it to 100. For example, this site below has a very good mobile ranking, but just needs to make one change to achieve the perfect 100 for user experience:


Concluding analysis

Our case studies show that unresponsive websites are unlikely to be annihilated by Google any time soon, although there is some variation per industry. Although Google are serious about sites responding to customer needs, and rightly so in our opinion, they do measure more than 200 other signals so sites can still rank highly based on other factors at the moment.

However, as we’ve mentioned, this is a snapshot analysis to give you an idea whether you need to act now or whether to can afford to wait, prioritising other SEO factors instead. We expect the picture to have changed in six months time.

A word of caution

It’s worth noting that although Google may not immediately annihilate your website for being unresponsive, your customers may not be quite so understanding if they browse your site on mobile and have a poor user experience.

Evidence consistently shows that the mobile web has overtaken desktop: more of your customers are browsing your site on mobile devices, whether on public transport, in a shop or on their sofa at home with their desktop lying idle in the next room. Even more will do so in the future.

If you don’t offer your customers an excellent browsing experience on the device of their choice, you will likely see a decline in your conversion rate. This would mean a much poorer return from your SEO efforts (and probably a knock on effect on your search rankings as well). This is something we’ll be looking at in future articles.

For some great advice and case studies about responsive design, listen to the Responsive Web Design Podcast by Karen McGrane and Ethan Marcotte.

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