How Much Traffic Will You Lose From The Upcoming Mobile SEO-Pocalypse?
Bryson Meunier on March 12, 2015
Google’s mobile-friendliness update is coming this April, but should you be rushing to make your site mobile-friendly? Columnist Bryson Meunier explains how to estimate the impact on your site.
April 21st (the day that Google will start using mobile-friendly compliance as a ranking factor in smartphone search) is coming, and if you haven’t done it already, you should really get your mobile ducks in a row.
For most of us, mobile compliance is no longer optional. At SMX West this month, Mitul Gandhi of seoClarity reported that mobile search currently makes up about 30% of total traffic, regardless of industry. For some of us, it’s more than half of all search traffic and growing by the moment.
Making your site mobile-friendly is necessary in the present for many sites, and it’s a good long-term investment even if it doesn’t affect your short-term traffic.
What if you’re in an industry where far less than 30% of your traffic comes from mobile devices? Should it still be a priority to make your site mobile friendly? Would you really lose that much traffic if you didn’t?
Recently on Google+, Rand Fishkin shared the device breakdown for different sections of Moz.com, and the numbers are pretty low – so low that Justin Briggs estimated the traffic that he might lose as a result of not being mobile friendly might be as low as “less than 1%.”
Moz is making its site mobile-friendly regardless (hooray!), but for other businesses, knowing how to calculate the effect of the mobile-friendly update could help them decide the time frame in which these changes need to be done. If there’s not a lot of mobile traffic to lose, maybe April 21 is not the end of the world for your online business.
Estimating Your Potential Lost Traffic From Google’s Mobile-Friendliness Update
To show how to calculate lost traffic to your business, we’ll use Moz.com as an example.
First, we used SEMRush to find the top non-brand keywords for the site, deleting any keywords that Moz ranked for that were navigational so as to create a list of qualified keywords that may be important to Moz’s business.
If you are doing this for your own site, use a list of your most qualified keywords, along with smartphone and desktop rankings for each. If you don’t have smartphone rankings for a site you don’t own, you can do what we did: use SEMRush position tracking to find smartphone ranking, and spot check suspect and missing rankings with Chrome incognito on a smartphone.
Once we had that, we took only keywords that had a page one ranking on desktop, which narrowed the list down to 87 keywords.
Using AdWords search volume, we entered the smartphone volume manually, and estimated desktop and smartphone traffic based on device-specific position and search volume, using seoClarity’s data around desktop and smartphone click-through rates (CTR) based on position:
We ended up with a spreadsheet that looks like this, with smartphone rankings penalties based on decreased click-through rate according to the seoClarity data.
When we estimate traffic, we can see that the “less than 1%” estimate was based on a very minor penalty, where the rankings on keywords without mobile-friendly content shifts only by one position. In industries where mobile friendly content is the norm, this could be much more serious, resulting in a loss of several positions.
We won’t know until April 21 what the fallout will be for the search results that matter for your business, but a shift in five positions could mean a loss of as much as 41% of Moz’s smartphone traffic and 3% of total Moz traffic:
It’s worth noting that this number could be a little lower in reality, as some of the URLs that we used in this study are already mobile-friendly.
This number will be different for every site. Moz is lucky because at present, its audience is not generally using smartphones to access the type of content it provides. However, given that the norm is about 30% search access from smartphones (according to seoClarity) and that some sites have much more than half of their traffic coming from smartphones, this mobile-friendly algorithm could be very disruptive to many businesses.
Given that smartphone access is only increasing (and faster than desktop access), businesses would be wise to follow Moz’s lead and make their sites mobile-friendly, even if the percent of total traffic that they might lose right now is less than 5%.