Every now and then Google tweaks its search algorithm in a way that uproots the online publishing ecosystem. It happened a few years ago when Google decided links to so-called content farms -- publishers that try to game Google's algorithm with keyword-laden headlines tied to content of questionable quality -- shouldn't show up as high on search results pages. Now the search giant is doing the same to any websites that don't work well on mobile, a move that's been termed "mobilegeddon."
Here's how Google described the changes when it announced them in February:
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. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.
For anyone unsure whether their site might run afoul of Google's mobile-friendliness signal and therefore fall into the search abyss, the company has created a web app to check whether a site would be considered mobile-friendly. And it has rolled out tools to help sites adapt to mobile.
The company also made it clear that mobile isn't the only consideration.
While the mobile-friendly change is important, we still use a variety of signals to rank search results. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal -- so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query.
Google is using its search algorithm to strong-arm companies to make their sites mobile-friendly for one very big reason. More people are using Google search on their smartphones, and those users expect the experience to be as good as the one they had grown accustomed to on desktop. If the search results link to sites that don't work well on mobile, that means Google search isn't as useful on mobile, making Google's core business vulnerable at a time it can't afford to be.
For years Google has been contending with advertisers being unwilling to pay as much for mobile search ads as they have been for desktop search ads. So long as people are migrating to mobile, advertisers and their budgets will too, according to the company's thinking. But if people stop migrating to Google on mobile in favor of a more mobile-friendly search alternative, then the second half of that equation comes even more into question.