People have been saying that ‘the year of the mobile’ has been here for a while, it now seems as if Google are forcing that issue.
On February the 26th 2015, Google announced on their webmaster central blog that they will be adapting their algorithm to reflect the changing behaviour of their users. This change will see those websites that are mobile-optimised receive a small boost, versus those websites that do not provide a mobile-optimised experience.
[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. – Google
Google have provided further information and some handy tools allowing you to determine whether your website is mobile-friendly or not, which I have provided below:
- Google’ guide for mobile-friendly websites
- you can test a few pages with this tool
- or you can use Webmaster tools Mobile Usability report to see whether Google think your website is mobile-friendly
To my knowledge, Google have never before provided an exact timetable for algorithm releases, but this time they have. D-day for those that have not got a mobile-friendly website is 21st April 2015.
With that in mind, I wanted to see how a selection of the UK’s biggest brands are performing when it comes to being mobile-optimised, and whether they will be affected based on the upcoming algorithm change.
I have used SEMrush to find the top 20 websites for the following search terms:
Note: If you want to skip to a certain industry, use the anchor links above.
Note about test: I checked each website on a mobile device first by searching for their brand name in Google UK. I then used the URL provided and ran it through Google’s tool, to test whether they see it as being mobile-friendly. Some of the URLs within the screenshots taken from SEMrush are not the mobile versions. All information used has been gathered with publicly available information. I am not affiliated to any of the brands mentioned.
38% of those brands checked for the term “holidays” are not mobile-optimised
For the term holidays, I checked the following brands based on the results shown by SEMrush.
Of the 18 travel websites checked, 7 failed with either the website not being optimised for mobile or a technical issue. With an ever increasing number of travel bookings in the UK being made on a mobile device, the number of brands that have failed this simple test is incredibly high.
Those brands failing to provide a working mobile-friendly website include a mixture of package holiday providers and airlines:
- Thomas Cook
- Travel Republic
- Virgin Holidays
Thomas Cook fail on technical issues
Of the seven websites that failed Google’s mobile-friendly test, it was only Thomas Cook that failed due to the configuration of their Robots.txt file. When running the test, the result indicated that the requested URL is being redirected, but the redirected URL is being blocked within the Robots.txt file.
This is reflected within the serach results, where there is no mention of the website being mobile-friendly, even though when you click through to the website, you are provided with a mobile-optimised website.
Are these brands prepared to fall?
Six brands (yes, six brands!) do not have a mobile-optimised website, and these are not small brands within the travel sector. Two of those brands, Cosmos and Monarch, provided a list of links to the user, whilst Travel Republic, Virgin Holidays, Direct Holidays and EasyJet merely display their desktop-optimised website, providing a terrible user experience when visiting from a mobile device.
It’s going to be interesting to see whether these brands will be quickly optimising their mobile presence, or whether they continue to provide a sub-standard mobile experience to their users.
4 out of the 17 retail websites checked for the search term ‘Dresses’ are not mobile-friendly
The retail sector is another industry where the customers are extremely tech savvy, and are one of the most advanced set of users when it comes to purchasing on different devices. So imagine my surprise that 4 out of the 17 websites checked were not classed as mobile-friendly, and even more surprising was the brands that are failing.
Fashionable since 1982, but not ready for 21.04.15
Arguably one of the most popular high street retailers, NEXT currently do not have a mobile-friendly wesbite, instead opting to provide their users with the desktop version.
With millions of users browsing and/or purchasing products on their commute, at lunch time or just generally on the go, it is hugely surprising that NEXT are still to implement a mobile-friendly website.
Millions on TV Adverts, but how much will a Robots.txt file cost them
It is reported that John Lewis spent £7million on their latest Christmas campaign, yet a small technical issue could potentially cost them a lot more if it is not fixed quickly.
When visiting the John Lewis website on a mobile device, you are presented with a mobile-friendly website with a decent user experience. However, when testing the website with Google’s mobile tool it fails, suggesting that the Robots.txt file is the main issue.
This is represented in the screenshot below, but when you search for John Lewis on a mobile device you are presented with the folllowing description “A description for this result is not available because of this site’s robots.txt – learn more”.
John Lewis is not the only large retailer that is suffering from this issue. Marks & Spencer and Dorothy Perkins are both suffering from the same issue as shown in the screenshots below.
The tool suggests that the issue is with the Robots.txt file, but do those at John Lewis, Marks & Spencer or Dorothy Perkins know about it, and do they care? With the size of these retailers, you would expect them to have people checking this, especially with the announcement made back in February. Maybe they are making the changes as we speak, but they are leaving it awfully late to get this implemented.
[UPDATE – 09/04/15] – Today I was tweeted at by @screamingfrog mentioning that JohnLewis had changed their robots.txt file to allow their website to become mobile-friendly in the eyes of Google.
On that news, I ran the test and it did indeed pass, showing that no matter how big the company you can still be agile and get things done quickly! Good work JL team!!
[END OF UPDATE]
Are all Insurance brands fully comprehensive?
The insurance market in the UK is one of the most competitive in search and being on the first page, let alone in the top three, is a must have for most insurers.
With car insurance prices generally increasing year on year, most people are looking for the next great deal, with mobile traffic and conversions rising sharply.
4 of the 19 brands checked do not have a mobile website!
As expected, all of the insurance aggregators in the first two pages have a mobile-friendly website, whilst the majority of insurers such as Aviva, LV and MORE THAN are also ready.
There are four websites that are not mobile-friendly, three insurers and one information provider:
- Money Saving Expert
Depending on the effect the algorithm will have on the mobile search results, RAC and Admiral will potentially see the biggest impact, based on them currently ranking 9 and 10 respectively.
Those UK brands that sell ‘white goods’ are the most mobile-friendly sector
The brands that sell ‘white goods’ in the UK are some of the most diverse companies you will see, with a cross section of manufacturers, electrical retailers, supermarkets, pure play businesses and department stores.
When searching for the term “washing machines”, there were only two websites that did not provide a mobile-friendly experience to the user, and these were:
- Appliances Direct
Both brands are currently showing the desktop version of their website to mobile users.
The issues that have been highlighted above are ones that can be changed, and in some cases very quickly. But do these brands think mobile is the right direction for them?
My view is that we should not be thinking about mobile vs desktop, we should be thinking of the user. Once we are thinking about the user then we will ensure that their user experience, no matter what device they are using, is optimal.
I am interested to see how these brands react to the upcoming algorithm change. Will they rush it through before the deadline? Will they take the hit, and see what effect it has on business? Will that be too late? I would love to hear your thoughts on above in the comments below, or over on twitter @danielbianchini.
[Update – 07/04/2015] – Since posting I have come across two pieces of content that are essential reads for ensuring that you do all you can to help get your website ready for 21st April 2015