What's the Story Behind Google's Mobile Update?
Amy Daniels |August 14, 2015
Google has once again released an update to its algorithm. This particular release was pushed out on April 21, 2015 and concerns mobile search. Unlike any update in history, Google provided thorough information about the update a full two months before the release and explained what webmasters could most likely expect once it went live.
Also unlike most of their updates, including 2013’s Penguin 2.0 and 2014’s Hummingbird, this release is almost entirely good news. And if it isn’t good news for you now, you can change that and reap benefits immediately rather than spending months — or years — doing damage control.
A summary of Google’s update
According to Google Webmaster, the mobile-friendly update “boosts mobile search rankings for pages that are legible and usable on mobile devices.” That’s it. So if pages on your website are easy for users to access and use on a mobile device, those pages will rank higher in mobile search than pages that don’t adjust for the mobile user. Note that this change only affects mobile searches; desktop searches aren’t affected.
This update isn’t that surprising when you look at the timeline of mobile’s popularity. Distilled, an online marketing agency, did a study on worldwide mobile traffic compared to overall website traffic and found astounding results: in May 2013, 16% of all internet searches were conducted from mobile devices. Just five months later, in October 2013, that number jumped to 20%. August 2014 saw a leap up to 30%, and by December 2014, roughly 34% of all internet traffic was coming from mobile devices.
The numbers make it clear that internet mobile usage is only going to climb higher as time goes by, so it makes sense that Google would continue to cater to the mobile user. In November 2014, Google started labelling mobile-friendly sites in search results, and over time Google has been placing less emphasis on keywords and more emphasis on content that answers users’ questions.
Using case studies to understand mobile
Even with self storage SEO changes that are fairly black and white, it can be difficult to fully understand them by simply reading about their details. Even as I researched Google’s mobile update, I wasn’t sure what it could mean for storage operators. I decided to check out how many mobile visitors our marketing website clients have been receiving lately, and I’m sharing my findings with you here to show just how relevant the mobile update may be to your storage business.
I used a sample of 20 storage facilities in 8 different states to get a wide variety. I surveyed data from 13 total companies, with operators as small as 1 facility and as large as 40 facilities:
The first thing I did was check each facility’s website traffic in May 2015. I looked at the total number of online visitors each facility received and then broke that number down by desktop visitors and mobile visitors:
As you can see, the numbers can vary drastically. Some of our clients saw as few as 11 visitors to their facility, while some of them had 800-900 total visitors in the month of May. This variety can be explained by the variety in companies surveyed. But I wanted to compare these numbers to another month to make sure they looked consistent. Check out the same numbers for June 2015:
Each facility’s number of visitors hovered around the same number for May and June, with a few facilities seeing fairly large boosts from May to June, which makes sense considering self storage searches often hit their peak highs in the summer months.
After looking at the simple number of visitors, naturally I wanted to learn about the percent of mobile visitors compared to the total traffic. If what Distilled found is true, the average percent of mobile visitors for our clients will hover around (or perhaps a bit higher than) 34%.
In the graphs below, I provide findings on three different numbers for each facility: the percent of mobile visitors in May 2015, the percent of mobile visitors in June 2015, and the total number of mobile visitors in both May and June 2015.
In the example above, about 44% of this facility’s online visitors came from mobile devices in May 2015. In June, about 46% of their traffic came from mobile. Then, to give an idea of how much traffic these percentages translate to, you can see that the May and June mobile visitors, for this particular facility, added up to 529 visits.
Now take this one example and see it laid out for all 20 facilities:
There’s a lot to look at here, so let’s break it down.
The dark blue bars represent the percent of mobile visitors per facility in May 2015. A quick look shows that some skyrocketed above 40%, with Facility #6 receiving more than 80% of its visitors from mobile. Meanwhile, some facilities barely met the 20% mark, with Facility #15 receiving 0 mobile visitors in May.
The light blue bars demonstrate the percent of mobile visitors per facility in June 2015. Many facilities saw a percent consistent with their May numbers, while others saw a large drop or increase. Looking again at Facility #6 and Facility #15, you can see that Facility #6 dropped from more than 80% of its traffic coming from mobile in May to about 50% in June. Meanwhile, Facility #15, who had 0 mobile visitors in May, had 1 mobile visitor in June, which accounted for roughly 15% of their total visitors for the month.
That grey line shows the average percent of mobile visitors across all these facilities for both May and June. With an average of 35.8%, these numbers are perfectly lined up with Distilled’s findings (remember we were expecting a number at or just a bit above 34%).
It’s also interesting to look at the total number of mobile visitors each facility received. Facility #1, with ~45% of its visitors coming from mobile each month, received an amazing 529 visits from mobile users in May and June. Similarly, some of the most astounding numbers don’t come from the tallest bars — many of the facilities with percentages ranging from 40% to 60% had more than 200 mobile visitors in a matter of two months.
Don’t forget about unit prices
Of course, when talking about storage facilities, there’s one more important number to consider: profit. I looked at the average unit rate for these same 20 facilities, taking into account all of their unit sizes. I found that our enterprise customers charge an average of $120.52 for a unit, while our pro customers (who usually operate fewer facilities) average $105.51 for a unit. The combined average, or the average unit price among all 20 facilities, is $113.01.
So even if you look at, say, Facility #11, whose percent of mobile visitors was less than the average at 4.3% in May and 1.2% in June, 29 of their visitors came from mobile during the two months. If even one of those visits turned into a paying customer, the difference can be huge every month. Conversely, for each month a unit goes unoccupied, these facilities would lose an average of $113.01 for every unoccupied unit.
It’s not too late for your self storage business
I mentioned in my introduction that this update is different from others in many ways. In the past, SEO marketers were up in arms each time Google released an update. With both versions of Penguin and Panda, websites received sometimes dramatic shifts in rankings. Website owners usually didn’t know what the update meant until after it happened, and by then it was a dramatic effort to implement the new best practices and start climbing in the ranks again.
This time around, Google has made it easier than ever to succeed. Google Webmaster even states the following:
"If your site’s pages aren’t mobile-friendly, there may be a significant decrease in mobile traffic from Google Search. But have no fear, once your site becomes mobile-friendly, we will automatically re-process (i.e., crawl and index) your pages." On the April 2015 mobile update
Not sure if your site is mobile-friendly? Google even put together this simple tool: the mobile-friendly test. Type in any URL (your website’s homepage or even a specific page on the site), and it’ll instantly let you know if that page is optimized for mobile. Does your self storage website design make the cut?
Think short-term as well as long-term when you choose the right path for you and do some digging to find a web design company that understands Google’s ranking factors. For instance, did you know that Google doesn’t give a stronger mobile-friendly ranking to responsive webpages versus mobile-friendly pages? Or that there are three different mobile configurations from which to choose? One common lie companies will tell you is that you have to dish out hundreds of dollars to create a fully responsive site, but these same companies are the ones who don’t spend enough time creating meaningful content for your users despite Google’s strong emphasis on this very piece of the puzzle.
"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 query." On the April 2015 mobile update
Take action and win mobile customers
It’s a pretty big deal for Google to make this big of an effort to help webmasters take advantage of this update. When you look at the number of mobile visitors worldwide and how that’s only increasing at a steady pace, of course Google would do everything it can to improve searching experience on mobile. Are you doing the same? If the pages on your site aren’t mobile friendly, maybe it’s time to take action.
The important thing is to get moving so that you can reap the benefits of having a mobile-friendly website as soon as possible — before your competition does.