As the calendar reached April 21, site owners, unable to ensure that their sites were “mobile-friendly,” were anticipating Mobilegeddon — huge ranking drops and dramatic traffic drops as Google implemented its new mobile-friendly algorithmic change. So what happened? On the April 22, there were no huge drops in traffic, penalties galore and havoc wrought. Instead, the results have been reminiscent of the Y2K phenomena where much was made of a potential disaster, but nothing of major consequence occurred. Was Mobilegeddon a fizzle or does it just have slow-burning fuse?
The fact that big changes did not occur in no way signals that sites, not yet designated mobile-friendly, are in the clear, so to speak. It is not atypical for a Google algorithmic change to take a period of time to roll out across the system. I like to think of it in sailing terms. They take the change out for a shakedown cruise and, depending on how it performs, set it off to sail around the globe. The data suggests that Google was already in shakedown mode prior to April 21.
Why did Mobilegeddon pass over us? Was it like an asteroid narrowly missing Earth? Not hardly! The answer is simple. Just as with Y2K, site owners, given advanced warning, were ready. It seems that many site owners, particularly those with top rankings to protect, heeded Google’s warnings and took the steps to ensure that they meet the criteria to be mobile-friendly prior to April 21. With fewer sites eligible (perhaps, a less than desirable state) for demotion for failing to meet the criteria, there is a smaller potential zone of impact. Many top-ranking sites hopped right to it and made sure that they were ready for the “big change;” hence, the big change was a big nothing. It still remains to be seen what the long-term impacts will be.
Missed in all of the hysteria around Mobilegeddon was the arrival of another algorithmic change, one with a very serious effect. On April 29, Google-watchers and site owners detected another “big” change creating huge drops in traffic for sites impacted. Because this change sneaked in without warning, it has been dubbed “Phantom 2.” The change seems to attack the same problems addressed by Panda — the ever-pervasive and deadly — thin content. There is also speculation that another Penguin is hatching in Mountain View, readying an attack on over-optimization and other violations of Google’s rules of the road.
There is a lesson to be learned from this recent set of shocks to the SEO system. Not all of Google’s major changes will be announced. Prompt response to announced changes is insurance against predictable/announced penalties. This is just one element of preparedness. Panda and Penguin updates are part of the landscape and will not always be announced. This makes it important to be ever-vigilant for thin content. I am an avid gardener and regularly prune my plants. It seems that for a site to stay healthy in today’s search ecosystem (that is, achieve and maintain solid rankings), the site managers need to evaluate, prune and enhance their pages to ensure continued growth. Because Panda-type algorithmic changes are going to be an ongoing part of the search ecosystem, site owners and their SEOs need to set a schedule to perform a regular Panda review — a critical look for content that is weak, does not engage the user or has been overwhelmed by boilerplate language to the extent that it offers little real value. I would also like to suggest a similar regular review of overall SEO practices to forestall any raging Penguins hatched in Mountain View. And, remember that the only predictable thing in search is that change is coming.