In a sign of how important smartphones have come to be in our lives, Google’s been working on a new algorithm that will substantially disadvantage those websites that are not easily read on mobiles and tablets.
Dubbed ‘mobilegeddon’ by some industry commentators, the change will start to be rolled out tomorrow could be a massive blow for businesses that rely heavily on ranking well on Google but still have websites that don’t adapt to small screens.
‘When it comes to search on mobile devices, users should get the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps,’ Google said in a February blog post. ‘As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns.’
The change will undoubtedly win Google some enemies but does seem to make sense. While desktop PCs retain a substantial share of web browsing, the search engine claims 50% of searches are now conducted on mobile devices.
Research from digital marketing firm eMarketer suggests British adults will spend more time using mobiles (not including phone calls) this year than they will on a PC, for the first time ever. It’s unclear quite how damaging the change will be to mobile-unfriendly websites, though Google says it will have a ‘significant impact’ on search results.
As well as improving the experience of browsers, Google's changes are also thought to be an attempt to improve its own revenue streams - too few of its pay-per-click advertisers have mobile-optimsied sites so it seems to be pushing them to change.
It’s unusual for one company to cause such a stir with a relatively minor change with its offering, but then that’s a good demonstration of the remarkable dominance of the search market that Google has built for itself.
This controversy is a good example of why it is that the European Commission has felt the need to launch an investigation into Google’s dominance. That one company has such power to influence the top line of so many others does seem remarkable, even if Google insists it’s done nothing wrong.
The chance of the EU succeeding seems quite low though. As Michael Wolff articulated in USA Today yesterday, 'in many ways, the European charges do feel like a last gasp of some aging sensibility and peculiar insistence on conventional norms, all quite discordant and downright annoying, in a transformed world, a Google world.'