Google Updating the Mobile Search Algorithm: What it Means to Orthodontic Practices

millermarykayBy Mary Kay Miller

Heads up! On April 21st 2015, Google rolled out a significant update to their mobile search algorithm. This update has the potential to make a huge impact on Google’s mobile search results.

Before you slip into panic mode, let’s achieve a better understanding of what this algorithm update might do, and how it could impact orthodontic website rankings. As local search continues to shift away from desktop and laptop computers and toward smartphones and other mobile devices, Google must account for the huge decrease in display size from that of a computer screen to a phone.

The user experience is very different on a computer than an iPhone or Android. Therefore, Google treats its search results differently for mobile devices. Google not only looks at whether you’re using a phone or tablet, but the exact brand and model of your mobile devices.

Google uses a “mobile crawler” that evaluates sites based on some different criteria than it does for searches from computers or laptops. This April 2015 Google update aims to impact local searches on mobile devices by tipping the scales of ranking emphasis even further toward sites that are mobile-friendly. This algorithm update is not expected to impact desktop searches.

What determines if a website is mobile-friendly?

Usability! Mobile-friendly means good information and ease of use. Primary mobile ranking factors include load time, readability of the page (text size), the size and closeness of buttons and links, and whether the page is sized correctly for the device being used. Noticing a trend here?

Sites that do not meet the requirements for being mobile-friendly are less likely to rank well on mobile searches. Google also evaluates how many pages are visited and how long the average user stays on the site from a mobile device. If your site offers a poor user experience on mobile and your visitors take one look at the site and leave (or never even make it to the site because of slow load time), then your ranking can suffer.

If you would like to test your own site against Google’s mobile-friendly requirements, Google has a tool for that:

How do I make my website mobile-friendly?

There are several ways to accommodate mobile users. The most efficient way is to build a responsive website, which can resize itself automatically based on the display size of the visitor’s device. Responsive sites allow you to serve the same content to all visitors, regardless of whether they are using a computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet.

Other mobile solutions include mobile websites and apps. Mobile sites operate on separate domains or domain extensions, and often have different content than your main website. One major issue with this kind of setup is that Google looks for mobile-friendly content for each page of your website (and blog). Apps and mobile sites may not satisfy the mobile-friendly requirements to the same extent as a responsive website.

There are varying degrees of quality and effectiveness with these mobile options. If you go this route, remember that you will be responsible for maintaining both your mobile website/app and also your main website.

You may be receiving emails from web design companies encouraging you to update your site to a responsive design. Some of their sales pitches are more threatening than others. In extreme cases, business owners are being told that their sites will be delisted from Google if they are not mobile-friendly. This is NOT true!

Before falling prey to fear mongering, evaluate your current website to determine if any changes are necessary. Your website could already be mobile-friendly despite what a prospective website designer says.

As a business owner, your goal is to provide your patients with the best experience possible whenever they interact with your practice. Otherwise, you risk losing business and being surpassed by your competitors. Mobile search is here to stay; the longer business owners wait to cater to this growing sector of local search, the farther behind they will fall!

I will be conducting an Ortho2 webinar on June 15th discussing the initial effects of the mobile algorithm update. By that time, we will have six weeks of ranking data to help us gauge the impact of the update.

For more information about responsive website design and how to test your web presence in local search, contact Orthopreneur at (877) 295-5611 or visit

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