The Google Algorithm is ...


Before jumping into the sense of urgency part, let’s frame the issue.

Mobile devices are taking over the world.

In terms of raw numbers, mobile users surpassed the desktop users last year.

ComScore Global Users -Google algorithm

Yet, this only tells part of the story. For PR and other communication functions, the core question comes down to behavior. Are consumers and B2B buyers depending on mobile devices to access news and information?

Just the flow of a typical work day that finds people at every corner hunched over their mobile phones tells us, yes. If you don’t trust the anecdotal evidence, a Pew Research study quantifies that over 50 percent of smartphone and tablet users do indeed retrieve news.

Growing Mobile Landscape Pew research

If this weren’t enough to push all types of online business communications to be mobile-friendly, Google’s Webmaster Central Blog published a post last February that carried these words:

“Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.”

That’s tomorrow.

While Google’s guidance for landing high on the SERP (search engine results page) can be obtuse or worse, the blog’s statement on mobile search leaves nothing to interpretation. If your online content isn’t mobile-friendly as of today, the Google algorithm will crush you.

As PR continues to come up the curve on business storytelling, there’s now a sense of urgency for the function to shape content — whether earmarked for journalists, a corporate blog or social channels — that plays on mobile devices.

Unfortunately, a recent study by Didit reveals that over 40 percent of the websites for the top PR agencies (based on rankings by O’Dwyer’s) failed Google’s webmaster test.

Not good.

If we can’t get this right for ourselves, what does that say about the probability for creating mobile-friendly content for clients?

Google provides a Developer’s tool that grades out mobile-friendly content with either a pass or fail. Just plug in the URL and out comes to the answer. Our site at got the thumbs up.

Mobile-friendly Test - Hoffman - Google algorithm

It’s amusing that some of the mega shops with digital savvy reputations like Edelman weren’t so fortunate.

Mobile-friendly Test - Edelman Google algorithm

To show I’m not picking on Edelman, this blog also failed the test, an issue we’ll resolve next month with a redesign. Looking at the blog’s analytics, it’s clear that the bad look on mobile screens has already cost traffic. Access to the storytelling blog by mobile devices which peaked at 33 percent last year now sits around 23 percent, and that’s before it takes a hit today.

Of course, creating mobile-friendly content is more than a technical exercise. It calls for understanding how behavior changes when the screen shrinks. While logic says that attention spans would also shrink, I’ve read contrarian research indicating people will read longer pieces. One thing everyone agrees on — mobile devices put a premium on visual storytelling.

Regardless of how behavior on mobile devices shakes out, communications needs to get the technical piece right.

We’re working on it.

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