As you probably already know, on or around the date of April 21st 2015, Google’s Mobile Update is expected to start rolling out across the world, and will affect millions of mobile searches. It is said to be the biggest change to their indexing protocols for years.

The background

Google already places a great deal of importance in how usable a website is in mobile. They have expressed this via the introduction of a mobile usability auditing section in Google Webmaster Tools (October 2014) and also added tags to sites in the SERPs that meet their criteria (November 2014). As the biggest search engine in the world, it is crucial to them to provide search results that give users the best experience possible. It keeps them coming back and keeps Google at the top of the tree.

Google have also made it possible to search for other mobile friendly content by introducing (October 2013) and constantly improving app indexing (February 2015).

Google’s official announcement is worded as thus:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.

But my site is mobile responsive, surely that means that it will survive the update?

Your site might be mobile responsive but there are quite a few other factors you need to look at to pass the Mobile-Friendly test.

As Google says, the most common SEO mistakes they see on mobile websites (and mobile responsive websites) include blocked JavaScript, CSS and image files, mobile only 404s, slow mobile pages and irrelevant cross linking.

So, even if your pages are showing as “mobile friendly” in the SERPS now; in theory, this could change when Google’s mobile update hits! Do you really want to take that risk?

Here is what to look for to make sure you survive the mobile friendly update:

Step 1: Check how Google’s mobile “bot” indexes your pages

There are a couple of ways in which you can do this.

Using Google Webmaster Tools

This is essential to anyone interested in SEO as it shows you how Google sees your site.

The first thing you should check is whether or not you are seen as mobile friendly at the moment. Look under “Search Traffic” on the main navigation bar, there you will find the “Mobile Usability” function. This tells you if your website is mobile friendly or not; if not, it takes you through the various reasons why.

google webmaster tools

Another thing to check, which is absolutely essential, is whether or not Google’s smartphone “bot” can even index important pages on your site.

Go to “Crawl” and then “Fetch as Google”. Then change the options in the drop down so that you can see how Googlebot for Smartphone indexes your site. If you want to see how Google indexes your pages on a feature phone, select XHTML/WML instead.

Input the URL you wish to test.

webmaster tools

A “Complete” with a green tick next to the URL means that it has been fetched and rendered successfully. A “Partial” or “Blocked” means that you should click through and find out what has stopped the URL from being indexed properly.

Or by using Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog also allows you to edit the user agent (Googlebot is a user agent) you can test the indexation of the pages on your site with. Simply hit “Configuration”, then “User Agent” and then select “Google Mobile”. All pages indexed by Google mobile will then appear in the box underneath. You’ll need the paid subscription of this tool to be able to do this, but it’s worth it!

screming frog

If you know how many pages there are on your site, all you have to do is cross reference this number with the pages revealed in Screaming Frog and see where the discrepancies are.

If you don’t have a list of the pages on your site, don’t worry; you can still find this information quickly and easily.

What you can do (which is really useful) is use SEOQuake to export the results of your site: search and cross reference with what you’ve got from Screaming Frog.

SEO Quake is a free browser plugin that gives you information about websites you are on; you can find out things like domain authority and the number of domains linking to that site.

All you have to do is:

  • Export the SERP data from a site: search
  • Export the data from Screaming Frog with Google Mobile set as the indexing user agent.
  • Run a VLOOKUP on the SERP dataset to mark if it finds the URL in the Screaming Frog Dataset; any SERP URL with an “N/A” next to it is probably not indexed by Google Mobile and should be investigated. Check it with the “Fetch and Render” tool in Google Webmaster Tools if you have access.
  • You should also segment your data in Analytics to mobile and organic search view only and search for the URL not indexed in mobile in the “All Content” section. You’ll be able to see there if it has had any visits from natural search or not.

Step 2: Look at cross device engagement on your site

A good way to see how mobile and desktop users look at your content is to separate your Analytics statistics into desktop, mobile and tablet view; make sure you choose a date range of a few months if you can; there can be mitigating circumstances that affect statistics from month to month but you’re less likely to have this happen if you select a big enough date range.

google analytics

Obviously if you pride yourself on having a mobile responsive site and engagement on mobile differs wildly from desktop then you should look into why this might be.

Google Webmaster Tools also allows you to see the data (queries and pages) filtered for Mobile devices, enabling you thus to compare and to further identify the differences in the users’ behavior on Web vs. Mobile:


Step 3: Check that Googlebot can access all of your files

Not long ago Google updated their technical webmaster guidelines recommending that you should allow Googlebot access to your JavaScript, CSS, and image files for a better rendering and indexation of your website:

Disallowing crawling of Javascript or CSS files in your site’s robots.txt directly harms how well our algorithms render and index your content and can result in suboptimal rankings.

Otherwise put, Google needs to look at these things in order to determine how they will work on a mobile device and if you have blocked Google from seeing your image, CSS or JavaScript files then you run the risk of falling foul to mobilegeddon.

Make sure to remove anything that looks like this:

Disallow: /images/
Disallow: /*.css
Disallow: /*.js

Also check the source code on your pages to ensure that you have not accidentally blocked or made anything NoFollow through adding meta robots tags. These directives can be added at page level and look something like this:

source code no follow

Screaming Frog will also tell you if pages are blocked in this way. It won’t tell you which ones though. This will require some investigation if any blocked pages are found.

Step 4: Compare mobile to desktop rankings

Using AWR or other rank tracking tool that supports mobile rank tracking, allows you to compare your mobile and desktop rankings:

awr cloud

In AWR you can simply run the Search Engine Comparison report with Google and Google mobile side-by-side, and quickly identify any discrepancies between your website’s desktop and mobile search performance.

Using the data to make key changes

Once you have all desktop and mobile rankings for each page of your site, you should then group the keywords by pages, so that you can note any pages of your website that are particularly affected by the difference. It might be worth having a deeper look into these pages on an individual basis and seeing what might be causing the difference in rankings.

Cross reference with your Analytics data, keeping desktop and mobile in your segmented view and have a look for things like reduced traffic and engagement in mobile.

Step 5: Avoid duplicate content and sitemap issues for mobile specific websites

Note that this does not apply to responsive websites, only to websites that have a separate mobile site.

If your pages are identical with those on, then you will need to tell Google about that, otherwise you might be in for a duplicate content penalty:

  • On the desktop pages, add the rel=”alternate” tag pointing to the corresponding mobile page:

<link rel=”alternate” media=”only screen and (max-width: 640px)” href=””/>

  • On the mobile pages, add the rel=”canonical” tag pointing to the corresponding desktop page:

<link rel=”canonical” href=””/>

Google also supports adding a rel=”alternate” tag to your XML sitemap so that they can see that there is a mobile version of each desktop page.

However, make sure to always stick to a 1:1 ratio when adding alternate and canonical tags, never point these to a page that is not identical and never ever point multiple desktop pages to a single mobile page! That just confuses Google and makes your life harder in the long run.

Lastly: Run your website through this checklist

OK, this is point number six but it was too important to leave out.

One last thing to do in order to be absolutely sure that you’re not making any of the common mobile SEO mistakes, is to run your site through Google’s checklist. Their list includes having unplayable content (such as Flash) or other content that is not suited to mobile devices, mobile only 404 pages, slow mobile pages and so on.

Have you secured your site for mobilegeddon yet?

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

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