The Looming Desktopocalypse: How This Google Update Could Affect You

By Gina Broom
The Looming Desktopocalypse: How This Google Update Could Affect You


It’s always important to keep a finger on Google’s ever-changing pulse, and this year there is quite the buzz around a recent announcement.

There is an approaching update that could potentially cause a ripple of effect in search results. When traffic is at stake many tune in to hear the latest news, and it's fair to say that this has become the talk of the e-town.

This time, Google is all about mobile-friendliness. Now, I know that "mobile optimization" as a topic has been thrashed to death, but Google is finally stepping up to the plate and taking action, so this update could really change things.

It's kind of like how everyone talks about global warming/climate change, to the point where it becomes a constant murmur in the background that no one reacts to anymore.

But the polar caps have melted, the tsunami is on it's way and there'll be no more ignoring The Desktopocalypse. 


How Important has Mobile-Friendliness Really Been So Far?

To be honest? Unless your site has a high mobile-to-desktop ratio, not that important.

Until now, the worst that can happen if you don’t have mobile optimization is that some of your users might get a little grumpy with your site when trying to navigate it on their phone. 

Considering that some websites have a much higher percentage of desktop users compared to mobile, the change hasn't always been important enough to prioritize.

I asked Rand Fishkin about Moz's lack of mobile optimization, for example, and he confirmed that this has been the case for them:

"For Moz, as with many companies, it's been about tradeoffs. We've prioritized responsive design a number of times in the last few years, but pushed it back as more pressing concerns arose. The biggest reason we have yet to make the change is because the numbers haven't supported the move.

For example, here's the latest data from our analysis of traffic to the site via Cyrus Shepard (who heads our content team):

All of - excluding Dev Blog and /rand. Includes tools (unsure if any of Moz Local is mobile friendly)

  • Desktop: 89.55%
  • Mobile: 7.95%
  • Tablet: 2.05

Rand's Blog (which IS mobile friendly)

  • Desktop: 78.93%
  • Mobile: 16.81% 
  • Tablet: 4.26%

Dev Blog (which IS mobile friendly)

  • Desktop: 88.63%
  • Mobile: 8.62% 
  • Tablet: 2.75%

If you isolate out people specifically visiting the Moz Blog and YouMoz, the #s are a bit higher:

  • Desktop: 83.89%
  • Mobile: 12.59% 
  • Tablet: 3.52%

Folks using Moz Analytics are hardly ever on Mobile

  • Desktop: 97.56%
  • Mobile: 1.84% 
  • Tablet: 0.60%

A little more mobile usage in Research Tools, but still low.

  • Desktop: 95.95%
  • Mobile: 3.00% 
  • Tablet: 1.05%

We estimate that by making the content sections of our site mobile responsive, we could get closer to the numbers seen on the already responsive sections of our site - Rand's Blog and the Dev Blog. However, these deltas are small and it appears that even when we do go mobile-friendly, we probably won't get a huge bump in traffic."

- Rand Fishkin, Founder of Moz

Admittedly, Affilorama has the exact same percentage of desktop users as Moz, and we are mobile responsive already. So, for these sites at least, it really hasn't needed to be a priority thus far.

So Why is This so Much More Important All of a Sudden?

Google has announced an update for April 21st that will potentially penalize the ranking of non-mobile-friendly sites. 

For any who don't already know, a recent Google announcement has indicated that it will be increasing the importance of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal:

mobile friendliness announcement

Basically, the time has come that the search giants are responding to the mobile movement. Web marketing expert John Moffitt has predicted the effect Google's changes will have on any site that hasn't optimized for mobile:

They will lose significant business or opportunities as the year progresses. Mobile unfriendly websites are like fine restaurants that haven't changed over the years. While their old customers will come back because of the great food, new customers will not because the restaurant is old, the decor is dated, and the restaurant is hard to find on a map.

- John Moffitt, Owner of Elvin Web Marketing

It looks like you might not be too happy with your search rankings come April if your website isn't optimized for mobile users. This is why Rand concluded his earlier statement with this:

"All that said, we're planning to have it in the next few months. I'm actually hoping we don't launch it before April 21st so we can see show the results of how Google's algorithmic changes impact our rankings/search traffic. I'm happy to take a hit to help show the SEO community what it looks like (or doesn't) :-)"

- Rand Fishkin

We can't be certain how big the actual impact will be until then, but I know that I am just one of many who will be very interested to see when the results come in. 

Fortunately, if you are concerned for your site's ranking, you can safeguard yourself against this update fairly simply.

The Great Update of April is coming: How to Check Whether Your Site is Responsive

There are a variety of options for testing your site, so just pick the one below that suits you most.

April is Coming

The first thing you'll want to do is check for sure whether your site is, in fact, mobile responsive at this point in time. 

There are three main ways that I’d suggest to check for mobile responsiveness. I understand that different people process information in different ways, so there are options for simple at-a-glance results, to full detail reports:

If you’re a visual person, this will be a good option for you. Simply enter your website address, or the address of one of your web pages, and look at the sample displays.

Responsive Design Checker

Basically, if you have to scroll left or right to see parts of your page, your site is likely not responsive, and you’ll need to change that ASAP. 

This is Google's quick page checker. You enter the URLs for individual pages, and it tells you if your page is mobile responsive or not and why.

mobile friendliness test

This is the Webmaster Tools test, which will tell you every page on your website that isn't mobile responsive, and for what reasons. It's much more thorough than just a yea or nay on your website's overall mobile responsiveness, so if you build and manage your own website, this would be the most useful option for you.

Webmaster Tools Mobile Friendly Test


If You DO Already Have a Mobile Responsive Site...

That’s great! Congratulations, you've potentially dodged a bullet. 

If you're site is already mobile responsive, this update will more likely help than hinder your SEO. If you want to be thorough, try reading this blog post about on-page SEO tweaks, or use AffiloTools Health Check to make sure everything else on your website is up to scratch for SEO.

GWP health check

If You DON’T Have a Mobile Responsive Website...

No need to fret, you can still make the change.

The right course of action depends on whether you build your own site, or have someone else do that for you.

If You DO Build Your Own Site: Look for themes tagged with “Mobile responsive.” Try this search for responsive WordPress themes.

Here are some examples: 

If you look at the previews for these themes and make your browser window larger or smaller, you can see if the information on the page shrinks or grows to accommodate the change. If it adjusts accordingly, the theme is showing to be responsive and you should consider it for your website. If it doesn't, you might want to think about trying a different one instead. 

*Note: If you don't use WordPress and you write your website by code, try this guide for "Making a website responsive in 3 easy steps."

If You DON'T Build Your Own Site: Ask your web designer about going responsive, and soon! 

A Note About Mobile Devices and Affiliate Marketing

One other thing to consider is the impact that all these mobile devices will have on affiliate marketing. When Affiliates are relying on cookies to get them commissions, the cross-device issue becomes a big one.

You can read more about it here. It's something affiliates will have to think about for the future. How do you get people to buy the product right then, or on the same device? How do you track across devices? 

Hopefully the technology will adapt as the daily use of multiple devices spreads like chicken pox in an elementary school. 

QUESTION: I'd love to know, is your website mobile responsive? Why or why not? If not, do you think you will make the change in preparation for April? Let me know in the comments below.

Sue 9 years ago
A couple of my sites are not using mobile responsive themes (which I'm on the hunt for.) In the past month I have received two emails from Google Webmaster telling me that a site wasn't mobile friendly. Perhaps this is in preparation for the change coming.
Gina Broom 9 years ago
Hi Sue,

Yep, that'd be why you're getting those emails. Google is messaging people to help them prepare for the update, which is likely indicative of the importance of it.

Best of luck getting your sites mobile responsive, I hope you find some lovely themes. :)

- Gina
Josh 9 years ago
What will happen to the websites that are not mobile responsive, and instead have a mobile version of their website? ex.
Gina Broom 9 years ago
Hi Josh,

I've done a bit of digging to be sure, and Google says, "Signal to Google when a page is formatted for mobile (or has an equivalent page that’s formatted for mobile)".

It looks like this will be ok so long as it's configured correctly for Google bots and users. You can find more information on that here:

Hope that helps. Best of luck. :)

- Gina
Russell 9 years ago
If Affiliates thought Google Panda and Penguin were tough to survive, this Mobile update will put even more pressure on your sites - and tracking ID's.

Personally, I'm averaging 20~35% mobile usage across my empire. Too big to ignore. I'm using RapidWeaver on Mac OSX and have bought a few 3rd-party responsive themes to get ready for the April 21st deadline.

Perhaps it's a GOOD thing, at least in the sense that it will demand all of us revisit our site(s), re-theme or fix, and take advantage of the opportunity to update products, refine our content, refresh stale sites that have 'coasted' too long.

Mobile tweaks are a great opportunity to PROVE you've 'got skin in the game' to your search engines AND keep your users happy - Woe to your competition who don't adapt. It's a chance to profit from their laziness or naivete'...
Gina Broom 9 years ago
Hi Russell,

Well said, and I agree: A great opportunity for some spring cleaning. Dust away the cobwebs while you put in some new mobile optimization.

Great to see you tackling it head on!

- Gina
jb.sites 9 years ago

What if I'm using AffiloTheme? Does AffiloTheme have an option to make the site's pages mobile friendly?

As of now, my site didn't pass Google's mobile-friendly test.

Gina Broom 9 years ago
Hi there,

You're right in that AffiloTheme is not currently responsive, but it's definitely something we're pushing through now.

As you can see in the post above under, "How Important has Mobile-Friendliness Really Been So Far?" - This hasn't mattered as much as other functions thus far, so we prioritized more prevalent benefits for the Theme.

As this update has been announced and the winds look to change, we are working on getting AffiloTheme responsive ASAP.

Thanks :)
- Gina
Keith Lee 9 years ago
Hey Gina, could you come up with a plugin to make AffiloTheme mobile-reponsive compared to redesigning the theme?
Gina Broom 9 years ago
Hi Keith,

Thanks for the suggestion! Unfortunately it's a little more complicated than that... But you can rest assured that we will find the fastest and most effective way to incorporate mobile-responsiveness into AffiloTheme. :)
riham A el 9 years ago
I agree with you jb.sites affilotheme needs to be responsive as quickly as possible.
Pat Hardy 9 years ago
How do we make updating the AffiloTheme a priority? If Google has an April 20 deadline, shouldn't the programmers at Affilorama get really busy??
Donal Philby 9 years ago
Brings up an interesting question. If you have an Amazon affiliate site and someone buys from their desktop, creating a cookie that gives you potential for additional commissions on other purchases, what happens if they next use their mobile to shop, which probably won't have the cookie installed.
Gina Broom 9 years ago
Hi Donal,

This is a very interesting point indeed, and it's one I research from time to time trying to find solutions. The ol' cross-device cookie-gap.

One type of newly emerging advertising, Facebook Atlas, is looking to do just that. You can read about it in my post here:

I think this is an issue that will be addressed a lot more in the coming years, as the way things are going with people having so many devices, it's just going to become more and more important.

At the moment, I think enough people are shopping on the same device for it to be OK.

I also think that the current commission rates will be allowing for those lost commissions. By that I mean that if we were able to track ALL commissions even across devices, people would be getting more of them, and the economy would have to shift to accommodate that. You'd likely get more commissions, but the percentage you'd earn on each one would have to go down to ensure that it was still profitable for the merchant.

It's a tricky one. Watch this space, I'll be sure to post in the blog if there's any updates on the issue. :)

- Gina

Elizabeth Stanfill 9 years ago
My site is mobile responsive and my analytics show about 43% of my visitors are on mobile.
Gina Broom 9 years ago
HI Elizabeth!

How interesting. I think having that optimization will definitely encourage a lot of that mobile traffic that you might have missed out on otherwise.

Sounds like you'll be all good going forward into the update too. :)

- Gina
James 9 years ago
Not sure if my site is responsive but i did bring all my blogs up on my I Phone and they fit very nicely

Gina Broom 9 years ago
HI James,

Sounds like they probably are then! Congratulations, you'll likely be safe going into the update.

If you ever decide to test for sure, there's always the options in the post above for you. :)

- Gina
karen anderson 9 years ago
I have been sitting on the fence with turning my website into mobile. I have AdSense on my site and I was avoiding going responsive mainly because of the positioning of my AdSense ads. But I did check with AdSense about the affect of going responsive and they were encouraging me to go responsive. I checked my state and my mobile audience has grown quickly to now being over 50% mobile traffic. Well its time to go responsive, I have more than 2000 keywords on page one of google so I don't want to be penalized for not being responsive. Its now a must do for me.
Ps, great post and thank you for the reminder, cheers, karen
Gina Broom 9 years ago
Hi Karen,

Great to hear you're finally making the leap, especially considering that over 50% of your traffic is mobile when you haven't even optimized it for that yet!

I think you'll find it makes a great difference, encouraging even more mobile visitors to stay on your pages, and holding your position in Google. That's an impressive number of first page keywords!

Sounds like you're doing fantastically, keep up the good work. :)

- Gina
karen anderson 9 years ago
Thanks Gina, I have done alot of my internet training with Mark Ling and affilorama. So thank you for sharing and good training.
comfi 9 years ago
Excellent article, your blog helps me a lot.
What's about mobile SEO?
Gina Broom 9 years ago
Hi Comfi,

Glad you found the post useful. :)

I'm sorry but could you be more specific about what you want to know about Mobile SEO?
Lesley Wilson-Klatt 9 years ago
Good day,

So, we are about a week out and I'm wondering, because I use Affilotheme for all my sites, if I should hold off on any changes until Affilotheme is redesigned and made available.

Any time frame on the update?

Thank you!
Melissa Johnson 9 years ago
Hi, Lesley!

I honestly don't know anything about the Affilotheme update. I would contact support. They should be able to help:
Gina Broom 9 years ago
Hi Lesley,

Just letting you know that AffiloTheme has been updated to be mobile friendly now.

Happy marketing!
- Gina
Cam 9 years ago
So am I correct in assuming that Google won't give a monkey's if you have a .m site or not - it is to be responsive or nothing?
Melissa Johnson 9 years ago
Hi, Cam --

It's really hard to say anything with confidence where Google's algorithm is concerned, since only the folks at Google know what's weighted and to what extent. After the update actually happens, I suspect we'll have more data, especially since the SEO gurus will be carefully studying the SERPs to spot trends.

For now, this is what MOZ has to say on the subject (check out question 4 for your answer):

The short answer? .m sites should be OK, but now Google is going to factor in other signals that a site is mobile friendly, too.