Web development Birmingham

Google's Mobilegeddon. A case study showing the importance of having a mobile friendly website

By Andrew Ward By Andrew Ward Feb 24, 2016
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You've been hearing it in the news since last April: Google has updated it's algorithms to favour mobile sites. It's all well and good being told that there is risk, but surely it won't be that bad right? Wrong.

A friend of mine (and now happy client) runs one of the largest UK pregnancy forums, where the entire way that they sustain it is through advertising revenue. This revenue is directly affected by the number of visits that they get to their website on a day to day basis.

In early September of this year they saw a colossal drop in their visitor numbers, from 2500 a day down to 1200! 

pregnancy forum traffic loss and recovery

This was a very concerning event, and as nothing on the forum had changed around this time so the client was left scratching their head, so they came to speak to us at the start of October. One thing stuck out like a sore thumb: the website was not optimised for mobile devices (i.e. it did not scale gracefully down to mobile devices). A quick look at their Google Analytics data around search traffic confirmed this showing that mobile visitor numbers were 330% higher in August than September, that's a 70% drop in visitors coming from mobile Google searches compared with the same period a month before.

 

pie chart showing drop in mobile search traffic visitors

Interestingly there was also a 60% drop in desktop traffic (August having 240% more visitors than September). We weren't expecting this as everything we had read in the media to date suggested that it would primarily be mobile searches effecting the changes, obviously not in this example.

Over the course of the next 5 days we updated the entire forum from vBulletin4 to vBulletin5. Given the size of it, this took a whole day to handle the migration (which is the reason for the traffic drop on 1st October). We performed this update for these main reasons:

  1. Improve the stability of the site.
  2. Improve the speed of the site.
  3. Make the site responsive & optimised for mobile devices (which was supported as part of vBulletin5).

The good news is that the effort was worth it, and after just 5 days the website has completely recovered its traffic. Another positive outcome is that it is evident that the vast majority of this rebound has come from the recovery of visitors arriving from mobile search results. Below is a graph showing 5 days after the update (the blue line) compared against the 5 days before (the orange line).

charts showing the recovery of traffic coming from mobile searches

As you can see, in just 5 days traffic from mobile search engines has increased by 250% compared to before the update a week before. 

Conclusion

Mobilegeddon is real and if your website hasn't been optimised for mobile and tablet devices then you are at risk of significantly reducing the amount of visitors you get from searches conducted on a mobile device. In the example above we experienced a 50% total drop in visitors, most of which came from a 70% drop in mobile search visits.

The interesting thing about the recovery, and something we weren't expecting, was that it rebounded after such a short period of time. After just one day visitor numbers were showing signs of recovery, and after three days things were nearly back to normal. This may be because the website is large and is constantly updated every day (so Google checks it frequently, and updates it's indexes), or it could be because Google wants to quickly reward those who jump on the mobile friendly bandwagon, either way the update was clearly worth doing.

If you are concerned about the mobile friendliness of your website then please feel free to contact us and we would be happy to give you some guidance on what you should / shouldn't be doing.

Or, if you would just like some more information on the importance of having a responsive website (backed up by market data) then you can download our free responsive white paper below:

do you need a responsive website eguide download - desktop image
do you need a responsive website eguide download - tablet image
do you need a responsive website eguide download - mobile image

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