Angie Petkovic

Is ‘mobilegeddon’ going to hit me hard?

Q: I read an article a couple of days ago about ‘mobilegeddon’: the fall in search engine rankings for businesses without a mobile-friendly website. Ours isn’t and now I am panicking. Is it true?

ANSWER

With the rise of smartphones, businesses can expect anything between 20% and 60% of their website visits to be from a mobile phone or tablet; this is a huge portion of the market and is particularly relevant to hospitality businesses who tend to be at the higher end of this spectrum. Users like to be able to read things on the go, squeeze in booking a holiday between meetings, or just have a browse in front of the TV, without the old-school laptop screen propped open in front of them.

At the end of April, Google did indeed update its famously secretive algorithm responsible for ranking websites, so that it favours websites which are mobile-friendly. Don’t panic though! Before the launch of the algorithm, there was a lot of scaremongering about, with businesses offering ‘emergency mobile-optimisation’ in the face of a change which will ‘destroy’ your website rankings. As the potential outcomes were all speculative and no one really knew what would happen, a lot of people fell for the propaganda, and whilst it has some basis in truth (Google promised and did implement the change), it isn’t as bad as everyone was predicting, which is so often the case.

BOXOUT: What do you need to know?

  • Google has developed and runs an algorithm which is effectively a virtual robot; it scans your website and rates it according to a number of factors, from how it is coded to how regularly it is updated, how many keywords it has to whether or not the pictures are labelled. Mobile optimisation is simply an additional factor for them to use when differentiating between websites, ranking them according to how ‘useful’ and ‘relevant’ they are.
  • Google regularly rolls out updates to this algorithm, often naming them after animals like ‘Penguin’ and ‘Panda’; these take into account things like whether the content is unique for example. Each time they roll out an update, the rankings change and while your competitors may have seen a change, you might not have noticed anything at all.

Each time Google refines its algorithm it is designed to make it deliver more user friendly and relevant results for the user. This means any algorithm update will have an impact, but it’s far more likely to affect big businesses in competitive fields than small ones. This is because Google ranks a website against a lot of factors, not just one; therefore if most of your traffic is loyal, repeat visitors searching for you by name, it’s not likely you will notice a drop – you are still the most relevant search result.

If however your website has a lot of traffic for all sorts of search terms like ‘Hotels in Brighton’ or ‘Places to stay in Edinburgh’, it will have much more of an impact, because this is where your competitors come in to play. Imagine for the moment that your website and your competitor’s website has an identical ranking – the exact same score on the same set of keywords (e.g. Hotel in Brighton), then they mobile optimise their website and you don’t do yours, theirs will automatically rank higher; if however they don’t optimise theirs, nor do you, nor do any of your competitors, then it will have no effect.

A recent study by Search Engine Land looked at 69 medium and small law firms before and after the algorithm roll-out; analysing thousands of pages, search terms and sessions, and even running a statistical model, they found that the grand total of nothing happened to small business websites, only to larger ones. Although I haven’t found a study to prove or disprove this for small hospitality businesses yet, it is likely to have a marginally larger effect in the hospitality industry because more competition exists. Marginal though you note!

For me, I think you should analyse your own traffic and then decide; how much of your website traffic uses a mobile phone, and how many bookings do you get direct? If you do all your business through third party booking organisations, mobile-optimisation won’t be money well-spent as your website doesn’t generate anyway.

Every monotepadnth, Angie Petkovic offers some expert advice on marketing and promotion quandaries, to help you attract more custom. Angie is managing director of APT Marketing & PR. If you have a marketing matter you’d like Angie to answer, email angie@aptmarketing.co.uk

 

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