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Major Google Update Coming April 21st - How To Prepare

In early March Google announced a new algorithm update targeting mobile sites that is scheduled to launch on April 21. Their official announcement stated "Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results." This was followed shortly by a statement at SMX Munich by Google's Zineb Ait Bahajji clarifying that this new mobile update will be bigger than both Penguin and Panda, both of which were the most impactful updates Google has ever launched. This rare official advance notice paired with their statements of size and scope should serve as a warning to all adult websites not yet fully prepared for mobile.

How To Prepare

In recent years Google has given a clear ranking advantage to websites that utilize responsive design. This is because responsive design websites theoretically provide the best user experience. There is only one website, one URL, making both desktop and mobile experiences seamless. The website simply adapts to any device. It also provided the benefit to website operators of not having to run a separate SEO campaign for a mobile subdomain. This helped websites to rank well on mobile devices due to the overall strength and authority of the one domain. The problem with responsive design, however, is that it's typically time-consuming and expensive to implement. Because of this, Google announced that as of April 21 responsive design websites will receive no ranking benefit over mobile subdomains. For those not yet prepared for mobilegeddon, this should come as good news. At Adult SEO Partners we have already helped most clients migrate over to responsive design, however there are a few that still rely on mobile subdomains who were happy to hear of Google's change of heart.

Preparing for mobile on subdomains easier and faster to implement, allows you to target pages for mobile specific keywords and gives you more control over the mobile user experience. There are of course clear disadvantages of a mobile subdomain over responsive design but for the sake of Google's April 21 deadline a subdomain may be the better option. When optimizing your mobile website on a  subdomain here are the most important things to consider to prepare for Google's big update.

Optimize All Pages For Mobile

When Google announced this mobile update they specified that the algorithm will analyze the mobile readiness of the website on a page by page basis. This means you should try and create a mobile friendly version of every page on your website. You can verify whether this has been accomplished by logging into your Google Webmaster tools account and running their mobile usability test.

Redirect Properly

The biggest problem many adult websites face is inadvertent cloaking. This happens when you show different page content to visitors than you do to Googlebot. This can sometimes happen when using mobile white labels and when using incorrect redirection code. The best way to ensure you pass Google's mobile usability tests on April 21 is by using HTTP to redirect based on user agent and by redirecting all desktop pages to their mobile counterpart.

Use Canonical And Alternative Tags Properly

A common misconception among adult webmasters is that mobile versions of desktop pages are considered duplicates. This leads a lot of webmasters to use canonical tags improperly, to the detriment of their mobile search traffic. Google does not necessarily consider mobile page versions duplicates, especially when these pages are optimized for mobile specific keywords. Because of this it's better to use the rel=alternative meta tag instead of the canonical tag. To do this simply specify the desktop URL in the mobile alternative tag and the mobile URL in the desktop alternative tag. This will clearly define the relationship between your desktop and mobile pages to Google.

Pay Attention To Page Load Times

Page speed is a big ranking factor for mobile pages, especially in adult due to our media-heavy content. If your mobile pages are sluggish you will likely be out ranked by other mobile pages that provide a better, faster mobile user experience. The three most impactful optimizations you can make to speed up your pages are to leverage browser caching, minify your code and reduce unnecessary redirects.

How Much Traffic Will You Lose?

If your website is already prepared for mobile and you pass Google's mobile usability tests in Webmaster Tools you can likely expect an increase in traffic after this big update on April 21. Your proactive efforts to provide mobile usability can earn you many of the new top rankings left behind by other websites not yet prepared for mobile. If, however, your website is not already April 21 you're likely to lose a significant percentage of your mobile traffic. The good news about this update, unlike previous updates such as Penguin, is that you have time to correct problems and prepare.

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