Why Google's latest algorithm update is 'essential' - US & UK agencies respond to Google's 'mobilegeddon'

Agencies have mostly welcomed Google's move to crack down on websites which aren't mobile-ready with its latest algorithm update. The search giant took the unusual step of announcing its update - which began roll out in the US yesterday (21 April) - several months ahead, giving marketers far more time than usual to prepare.

Consequences are expected to be sharp, with brands including David Beckham's official site, Kellogg's, and American Apparel, tipped to fall down the rankings, according to findings from mobile specialist Somo. What's more - Google has hinted that the changes will dwarf those of two of its previous major updates Panda and Penguin.

Given the update will take effect in the US first before rolliing out to the UK market The Drum spoke to a mix of US and UK marketers to guage opinions on what the move will mean for marketers and who will be the winners and the losers.

Steve Carbone, managing director and head of digital and analytics, MediaCom US

"Mobilegeddon", the nickname given to this apocalyptic algorithm change by the marketing community might not be the over exaggeration that we often bring to these types of announcements. Both large brands and small businesses can expect this to impact their current organic search results. The ramifications for marketers who have ignored mobile optimizations of their online properties over the past few years will be great. While this will cause some initial discomfort for them, the end result will be better for everyone.

What has always been important to Google is content and user experience. This change is true to their brand to continue to deliver that to their audiences. The expectation of the media community, and the reason why we spend on Google is because we trust the experience they bring to the audiences we want to engage with. When 60 per cent of online traffic is coming from mobile devices, and the sites being served in the result pages are not optimized for mobile this creates a bad user experience. The content may be good but if you can't read it what's the point?

This move was essential for Google to make. While some may say they are forcing the issue, and this will be painful for some brands, it actually will move the industry forward.

Mark Thompson, head of data, Havas Helia

It’s a god send for marketers. Google has responded to reflect consumer behaviour and preference for using mobile devices to consume the content they like and connect with their friends. It’s the marketing role to respond to consumer needs, and consumer data has for some time been pointing heavily in favour of a mobile driven strategy. All Google has done has pushed this dial even further. Good on them.

John Caruso, partner, MCD Partners

It’s interesting looking at how much influence Google has over how the world builds websites. If, for example, Google told us they would favor article headlines with exactly eight words, overnight we would all probably scramble to rewrite our headlines.

This move from Google, however, has been a long time coming. They've already launched several initiatives to promote mobile adoption over the last few years. Google recognizes that growth in their ad business is going to come more and more from mobile based ads.

But this change in particular will probably have less of an impact on bigger marketers, who've been pushing mobile to clients hard for the last 5+ years. Google seems to be attempting to finally push everyone over the hump. By directly penalising search results Google could in effect finally create the mobile-optimized web consumers have all wanted for so long.

Lesley Pinckney, VP, digital & social, Walton Isaacson

The announcement by Google that they're changing their algorithm to prioritise mobile, again shows why they are the as successful as they are. This move is about optimizing their platform for the very coveted millennial audience that are far and away mobile first consumers.

In addition to millennials, the multicultural consumer is also overwhelmingly mobile first and the fastest growing segment of the population representing another great opportunity that has long-term effects.

On most of the brand sites we manage their traffic is either about to be or already is mostly on mobile. Brands which have been slow to adopt to a mobile first strategy hopefully will shift their focus and pay more attention. This move also will favor digital native brands who have designed their sites mobile first. Lastly, this might change the app vs. mobile web conversation at brands and steer them away from apps due to the SEO value of a great mobile web site.

Greg Ratner, director of technology, Deep Focus

This move should come as no surprise to marketers. On average, about half of web traffic already comes from mobile devices, so providing a great mobile experience has ramifications that are far beyond Google’s mandate – it’s a necessary part of reaching your users. Brands that haven’t moved to a responsive website platform, or at the very least are not providing a separate “m dot” experience, will not only frustrate a large percentage of their user base, but will now rank lower in Google.

The next step will likely be a penalty for disjointed (or inferior) content between desktop and mobile. Brands should take the opportunity now to move to a fully responsive design, and get ahead of this issue, before it becomes a problem in the future.

This move is significant because it recognises a global trend for mobile as “first class citizen”. With the number of mobile devices outnumbering desktop computers the web is now less often consumed while tethered to a desk and a lot more prevalent on the go.

Google is taking a strong stance on this issue by rewarding good user experience and penalizing restrictive content. We expect this move to accelerate improvements by these brands who refused to make these improvements already.

Simon Bailey, CEO, Telefonica-backed Axonix

Google’s announcement reiterates what many of us in the industry have been saying for a while – mobile is here and it’s here to stay. It can no longer be a second thought, and Google is acknowledging that a vast number of its users will be coming to websites on their phones, so should be served the mobile option for the site from the outset.

But, as consumers are going to be driven more to mobile sites, what will it mean for marketing budgets? The challenge of “how to crack the mobile advertising strategy” has established itself as a perennial thorn in marketers’ sides, and the move to prioritise mobile websites by Google will only increase the pressure on these brands to optimise their mobile ad strategy.

Many advertisers think they can just apply desktop campaigns to those they are running on mobile. That’s not the case. While cookies are core to desktop advertising, they just don’t work with apps. Since 80 per cent of mobile ad impressions are inside of apps, and most mobile traffic runs through them, any technology that’s reliant upon cookies is largely useless for mobile ads.

That’s because technology that has been built for mobile provides an optimised mobile advertising experience for consumers, advertisers and publishers. With acknowledgements like this from Google, advertisers need to use specialist technologies to truly target the mobile audience. These deliver better targeting, so ads become more relevant to the user, increasing the value for both consumers and advertisers, and delivering a higher price for the publisher.

So don’t rest on your laurels. Brands who assume their desktop technology partners can handle mobile are just going to fall behind, because they will miss out on an extremely valuable opportunity to get their mobile marketing campaigns up to scratch and improve their mobile advertising effectiveness. Given that mobile revenues are expected to reach almost $11bn this year, this trend towards mobile is only going to accelerate.

Andrew Girdwood, head of media innovation, DigitasLBi

It's an exciting update becuase Google announced it with a considerable amount of notice and that's unusual. Google really are incentivised for people to have a good mobile experience of the web, becuase they need the web to work whereas the likes of Facebook are content for people to work within the Facebook app or Instagram app for example. I'm not saying Google doesn't have apps but if you can have a phone and have a good search experience on your mobile then Google benefits.

We have been led to believe it will be a big one - bigger than Panda and Penguin - that's the impression Google has given us, and Google has spent months emailing quite aggressively, through its webmaster console, alerts to whether your site has mobile issues or not, and big brands were getting those emails.

Also this may change how spcialist boutique search agencies worl with their clients. In the past with its SEO updates the boutique agencies especially would offer their clients advice on what they needed to do. This is a different change - Google is saying your site has been built in a way that is no longer optimal for Google. And if you're a boutique specialist for a big brand you can't build a mobile friendly site for a big brand. You can advise a client to do it but cant actually deliver that work.

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Minda Smiley

Minda Smiley is a reporter at The Drum covering creativity and advertising. Based in Philadelphia, she primarily covers independent agencies and B2B marketing. She also oversees The Drum’s “Independent Influence,” a weekly series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies. During her time at The Drum, she has covered industry events including SXSW, ANA Masters of Marketing, 4A’s Transformation and C2 Montréal. She is a graduate of the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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