August 31, 2015 Last Updated 9:31 am

‘Mobilegeddon’ fallout: Publishers with international sites may see their mobile impressions decline

Guest column: Charles Whiteman, senior vice president of client services at MotionPoint Corporation, writes about the impact of Google’s recent mobile friendly update and their effect on publishers

Were you one of the many digital publishers who held their breath when Google released its highly-anticipated Mobile Friendly Update? Earlier this year, the search giant announced that its mighty algorithm would boost the ranking of mobile-friendly webpages on mobile search results, and leave others in the dust.

You might not have held your breath, but the blogosphere sure did. Writers nicknamed the update “mobilegeddon” or “mopocalypse.” Tens of thousands of words – not a few of them breathlessly delivered, too – were dedicated to the topic, culminating on April 21, when the update went live.

The results weren’t quite as earth-shattering as the blogosphere had suggested. (More on that in a moment.) But it was undeniably a smart and future-friendly move on Google’s part. Mobile website traffic eclipsed desktop web traffic last year … and more recently, Google declared that in 10 countries (including the U.S. and Japan), more web searches take place on mobile devices than on computers.

A Quick Recap
GoogeDev-MobileIf you were hiding under a rock during mobilegeddon and need a primer, here’s the score: Google’s update now actively rewards web pages that are mobile-friendly, and penalizes those that aren’t. If a page’s text remains optimized for large screens and features media that isn’t supported on smartphones, that page can see a “significant decrease in rankings in mobile search results,” the company warned.

This is a huge deal for digital content creators and publishers from all industries – from independent bloggers to professional corporate sites and even experimental projects, such as interactive online fiction. If readers can’t find your content via organic search, that content is in trouble.

So what was the impact of Google’s update? As one analyst wrote at the time, it “didn’t quite have the doomsday impact that some thought it might.” This was widely credited to companies embracing mobile-friendly designs in recent years.

Some Sites Were Hit Hard
However, data compiled days after the update suggested some sites lost big, including Reddit (-27%), NBC Sports (-28%), and even the U.S. Census Bureau (-23%).

Nearly all of the reportage on mobilegeddon focused on English-language U.S. websites. However, the Mobile Friendly Update affects searches from mobile devices across all languages and locations. This is very important for publishers to understand.

Publishers interested in expanding into international online markets with localized / translated content – or who have already expanded into them – must remember that smartphone penetration in emerging markets is quite large, and rapidly increasing. Users in many of these countries use smartphones as their primary internet devices.

According to an eMarketer report, worldwide smartphone penetration will increase by nearly 13% this year alone, reaching 2 billion users next year. By 2018, more than one-third of all consumers worldwide will use smartphones.

As we continue to witness the convergence of…

  • Increasingly ubiquitous global smartphone penetration
  • Ever-growing opportunities for online expansion into new international markets
  • Mobile-friendly search algorithms like Google’s, deployed worldwide

…publishers can’t afford to ignore the mobile web, and search engine updates. Those that do will suffer in the marketplace.

We know this because we’re currently seeing it.

International Sites Saw Larger Losses
An analysis of 40 international websites that MotionPoint translates, optimizes and operates confirmed that mobilegeddon impacted international mobile website traffic more than English sites.

In the months leading up to the update, MotionPoint clients were briefed on the Mobile Friendly Update’s importance, and were advised when the “mobile unfriendly” red flag was detected on their English sites. (These issues would trickle over to the international sites we operate, due the proxy-based technologies we use to efficiently translate and deploy content for international markets). Some clients took action. Others didn’t.

Our post-update analysis was pretty revealing. All organizations that implemented the recommended mobile-friendly improvements saw increases in mobile traffic. Some sites, in fact soared, seeing an improvement of more than 40%.

Unsurprisingly, clients that addressed most of the recommendations saw greater lifts in impressions. Reducing mobile usability issues by an average of 32% resulted in an increase of nearly 25% in mobile impressions, and a boost in overall impressions of 16%.

Companies that chose not to implement the recommendations saw much different results. After the Mobile Friendly Update was deployed, the quantity of web pages that had mobile usability problems actually increased on these sites – an average of 35%. This resulted in a decline in mobile impressions of 20%, and a drop in overall impressions of 17%.

Further analysis revealed:

  • Sites that took virtually no steps to address recommendations for mobile optimization saw their international mobile impressions decline by an average of 36%
  • Sites that corrected some issues, but remained very “mobile unfriendly” saw declines of 28% on average

Charles-Whiteman-400The key takeaways for publishers are two-fold. First, they must take seriously the impact of algorithmic updates such as Google’s “mobilegeddon.” Second, they should consider how such updates will affect the performance of their important international sites – and must take steps to ensure that traffic (and conversions and sales) won’t be impacted in these thriving, mobile-savvy global markets.

Indeed, as one columnist wrote back when mobilegeddon reportage was at its peak: “(T)he genie is not going back in the bottle. If you’re hoping that Google will abandon their mobile-friendly algorithm … it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.”

Charles Whiteman is senior vice president of client services at MotionPoint Corporation, the world’s #1 enterprise localization platform. He may be reached at

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