Starting tomorrow, Google will only play nice with websites friendly to mobile. The search engine is adjusting its algorithm to boost the rankings for sites that meet its criteria for mobile display and bury those that don’t.
It’s part of Google’s prolonged bid to get better at mobile, where it has lost its edge on search and ad serving. The algorithm changes will only apply to searches on smartphones, not tablets, and only to organic results, not ads. Some publishers are scrambling to meet the new demands. Portent, a market research company, tested 25,000 sites and found that 40 percent miss the mark. Thousands of small businesses (and even large ones) fall short as well.
Although Google’s search has surrendered some of its traffic referral power (to Facebook, in publishing, and Amazon, in commerce), it’s still a giant. “Mobilegeddon,” the term coined for Tuesday’s changes, speaks to the large footprint Google retains on the Web.
But its latest SEO tweak is not likely to reverberate as much as earlier ones. Those adjustments, such as Google’s “Panda” search redesign in 2011 to purge content deemed too thin, throttled entire companies. (See: Demand Media.) This time around, Google gave advance warning, notifying developers in February. They even provided a site to test if a URL is “mobile-friendly.” (This one is.) It’s a marked difference from prior alterations to the algorithm, said mobile industry insiders.
“They’re very tight-lipped about everything they do,” said Dan Meehan, CEO of PadSquad, a mobile software company. “In this case, they’ve definitely been proactive with publishers.”
Of course, with Google being Google, no one is certain of what tomorrow’s algorithm will bring. Some descriptions of the search change said Google will destroy sites without proper mobile optimization. But Google is pushing back on this, claiming the new requirements only adjust the search weights. “While the mobile-friendly change is important, we still use a variety of signals to rank search results,” a Google spokeswoman wrote in an email. “The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal — so if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query.”
The SEO changes come as Google’s search tactics face regulatory charges in Europe.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.