Google is back in the news with another algorithm change – and this time it’s a big one. The search engine announced recently its plans to roll out the Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update on April 21st, 2015, a change expected to impact up to 40% of all mobile searches.

What’s the issue with this? Google’s impending update is slated to be the search engine’s most impactful change since the rollout of Google Panda in 2011. The coming update will place additional weight on mobile-friendliness as a search engine ranking factor, rewarding mobile-friendly sites and potentially docking un-optimised sites in Google’s mobile search rankings.

Google’s changes are based on the idea that “users should get the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps,” according to a post on the official Google Webmaster Central Blog. The search engine’s all-powerful algorithm will change on April 21st to favour sites that are configured properly for display on mobile devices, taking front-end design and back-end development considerations into account.

Some of the new criteria for a website to be deemed mobile-friendly by the Googlebot include:

  • Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
  • Uses text that is readable without zooming
  • Sizes content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
  • Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped
  • Fast mobile download speeds
  • The Google Mobile-Friendliness Algorithm Update will give preferential rankings to those sites deemed by the Googlebot as being “mobile-friendly.” Google assesses whether or not a site is mobile-friendly on a pass/fail basis. If a site satisfies its front- and back-end requirements, it receives a passing grade and could earn higher rankings on search engine results pages, as well as a special “Mobile-Friendly Badge” to identify the website for its mobile user-friendliness post-April 21st.

Why is it important to hoteliers?

This update is critical to hoteliers looking to drive revenue online. In 2014, mobile bookings increased by over 36% while mobile revenue increased by 114%, an indication travel consumers are becoming more comfortable transacting via their smartphones. Nearly 21% of bookings, 17% of room nights and 15% of revenue came from tablets and mobile devices. If we include voice reservations originating from the hotel mobile website, more than 25% of bookings and revenue originate from the non-desktop channel (HeBS Digital Research).

With more than 90% of search engine results page click-throughs occurring on the first page of results (Chitika), appearing within the top few search results is a crucial component of any successful organic marketing initiative. Sites that meet Google’s mobile-friendly criteria and provide high-quality content will continue to come out on top in the battle for search engine results page real estate.

What do HeBS Digital’s digital marketing experts recommend?

Google’s announcement of the Mobile-Friendliness Algorithm Update in advance of the April 21st rollout gives hoteliers ample time to make the updates necessary to meet the search engine’s new mobile standards. Here are some priority action steps:

Website Technology Audit:

Audit whether your property website’s content management system (CMS) is engineered to comply with the latest Google Update. Using industry-leading technology as the backbone of your hotel website is the best way to ensure your site stays compliant with Google’s mobile-friendliness requirements. For example, HeBS Digital’s award-winning CMS technology – the smartCMS – provides the flexibility and responsiveness so that when such algorithmic updates occur, we are able to immediately act on them and roll out automatic updates to ensure mobile-friendliness, even as Google’s requirements evolve.

SEO Technology Audit:

Performing an SEO audit of your website, including a full audit of link structure, re-sizing of images, reconfiguring design elements, or replacing Flash with crawlable, search-friendly code, allowing the Googlebot to crawl CSS & JavaScriptis, etc., is vital to ensure your website complies with Google’s mobile search requirements.

User-Centric Content & Website Design:

In addition to running your hotel website on an adaptable and mobile-friendly CMS technology, remembering to create and display content with the user in mind is critical. Google’s emphasis on mobile usability should only reinforce the importance of designing and developing websites and creating content that benefits the user and serves a valuable purpose.

Website Download Speeds:

Audit your website’s download speeds, especially on mobile devices. Slow mobile download speed is “killer” of mobile usability and a big no-no, according to Google’s latest Mobile- Friendliness Algorithm Update.

Make sure your website is hosted in the cloud with built-in redundancies and load-balancing, and utilizes CDN (Content Delivery Network) platform enabling distributed content delivery of the rich media content. All of these dramatically increase download, improves user experience and conversions, and improves search engine rankings that are increasingly dependent on fast download speeds.