The break-up between mobile and desktop organic search results

I just took at look at the top websites in the US, according to their mobile SEO Visibility.

The top 20 websites in the US by mobile SEO Visibility (Searchmetrics, 23/03/16)

You find all the hot shots in the top 20, just as expected.

I was then curious to see, if there is a difference to the top list of sites for (desktop) SEO Visibility.

And yes, there is!

For the mobile index, you’d find Amazon on #4 and Twitter on #5. On desktop it’s the other way round. Same with Apple and Google, Yahoo and Instagram, and so on.

So I asked myself: Since when does Google rank keywords for a site differently on mobile and desktop search results?

Last year in April, Google started to boost sites that are “mobile friendly” in search results. It was the beginning of splitting up mobile and desktop search results, as a reaction to the ever increasing amount of mobile users.

But mobile search results were very similar, if not the same, compared to their desktop pendants. That’s because Google assigns the same ranking factors to pages for the mobile and desktop index.

We’ve seen some cases in which sites lost mobile SEO Visibility, due to not being mobile friendly.

Searchmetrics conducted a study about the impact of the mobile friendliness update. What we’ve seen were two cases:

  1. Either mobile SEO Visibility drops hard, because the site is not mobile friendly
  2. Or it surpasses (desktop) SEO Visibility and grows stronger

Until now.

Or better said: until recently.

What I’ve found is that a large number of huge websites show a segregation of mobile rankings from desktop, starting in January 2016 (2nd week).

Let’s look at some examples:

Wikipedia — the largest site on the internet
Facebook — the largest social network
Amazon — the largest e-commerce platform
Yelp — the largest local search and business rating platform
Youtube — the second largest website, search engine and the biggest video platform
Tripadvisor — the largest vacation rating platform
Urbandictionary — the largest crowdsourced (satirical) dictionary
Reference.com — the largest online encyclopedia

Notice how the green line, representing mobile SEO Visibility, is correlating with the blue line (desktop SEO Visibility), but then on 01/10 it starts to develop differently? That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

Why is that such a big deal?

A couple of days ago, Google announced that it would boost mobile friendly pages even more, beginning in May. This ultimately leads to mobile search results becoming more independent. You could have a shitty user experience on desktop, but create a kick-ass mobile web-app and therefore rank pretty good on mobile search results. It could go as far as to being penalized by a quality algorithm, like Panda, for desktop results, but being fine on mobile! Just speculating.

I think this has happened already.

Rankings for the same keyword become more and more different on desktop and mobile, sometimes up 6 positions apart. If you’re ranking on the last few positions on page 1 on Google, this could mean that on mobile devices you rank on page 2, meaning out of sight.

Tripadvisor: different rankings for mobile and desktop with the same URL

Some differing results even occur with different URLs for the two devices, meaning URL A is ranking for desktop results, while URL B is ranking for mobile results — both for the same keyword.

Yelp ranks with different URLs for the keyword “costco hours” on mobile and desktop results

Whether this means that Google doesn’t understand which URL is more relevant or it ranks them differently on purpose, fact is that it looks at both with two different lenses!

Amazon ranks for “gone girl” on #5 for desktop and #10 for mobile devices

The mobile revolution has started in January — and nobody noticed!

(By the way: something seems to have influenced the mobile index from the last week of July until first week of November 2015 as well. Facebook, Youtube and Wikipedia — the three currently biggest sites on the net — show major mobile ranking fluctuations. But it needs more research to figure out what it was.)

What does this mean for SEOs and web masters?

Fix the mobile version of your site! Make it perfect. Get rid of mobile friendliness errors (Go to the Google Webmaster Tools, click “Search Traffic” > “Mobile Usability”).

Do it now, you might miss out on a competitive advantage #firstmover.

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