What Does Google’s Mobile-First Algorithm Mean for Advertising in 2017?

Google algorithm updates

To further drive their mobile-first approach, Google announced in November 2016 that they’d be testing a new mobile-only index. Previously, the search engine has used an index which crawls desktop and mobile websites. If you see a noticeable fluctuation in your site traffic (up or down) around November 10, 2016, now you know why!

Google’s first mobile-friendly algorithm launched on April 21, 2015, or ‘Mobilegeddon’ for anyone without a mobile-friendly site. The goal of this update was to provide mobile users with the most relevant search results (which makes sense considering almost 60% of searches are on mobile). Business owners, marketers, and advertisers everywhere panicked as they watched their non-mobile friendly websites plummet in terms of rank and traffic.

While most people quickly learned that a responsive or mobile-friendly website was critical to build back their rank and traffic, Google announced yet another mobile algorithm in May of 2016. This change essentially gave a boost to mobile friendly sites. The magnitude of this update didn’t result in a Mobilegeddon 2, but there are definitely considerations advertisers need to make in preparation for 2017.

So what do all these mobile algorithm updates mean for advertisers creating their strategy for 2017?


It’s been over a year and a half since Mobilegeddon so if you haven’t already: Ensure you have a responsive website or separate mobile version. Google prefers the former. A responsive site adjusts the size of the elements based on the device the user is browsing on. Using responsive design, a website will have one URL but with a separate mobile website, you will have two different URLs. If you choose to create a separate mobile website, you’ll need to implement various SEO efforts for each of the sites. It can also be difficult to get an accurate view of your metrics when you’ve essentially got two sites.

Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test

It’s free and can provide you with a benchmark on what you can change to ensure you’re aligning with the mobile-first approach. However, keep in mind that there are other ways to optimize your site outside of what Google recommends. While it’s important to keep up with their algorithms, don’t be too quick to make major website changes without talking to an advertising expert.

Use pop-ups & interstitials with caution

Taking effect on January 10, 2017, pages with mobile pop-ups or interstitials won’t rank as highly as those without. These pop-ups include:

  • Interstitial ads
  • Newsletter pop-ups (like Leadin or SumoMe)
  • Pop-up calls-to-action

The goal behind this update is to help users access content faster and more effectively. While there are exceptions to this update (like smaller, unobtrusive banners or legal age requirement verification), it can create a conflict for advertisers. Especially if pop-ups are used on your site to generate revenue. If this scenario sounds familiar, you have two choices:

Focus on improving your rank and converting users once they land on your site with content.


Decrease your page rank and subsequent organic traffic, but potentially earn ad revenue from the pop up.

Rank or revenue? If you’re inclined to keep your pop-up because you’re seeing solid revenue or a large number of qualified leads, consider how it’s affecting the experience of the users that aren’t converting. Perhaps they would have converted elsewhere on your site if they had been able to easily access the content they intended to find? Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to optimize your site for mobile AND lead generation. Not sure where to start? Work with a conversion expert to create a systematic approach to improving your rank and converting more leads.

Understand Your Buyer Behavior

Conversions and sales are no longer as simple as: person searches for item, clicks first result, buys item online. Buyer behavior has now become more complicated, especially when the user is on a mobile device. Let’s use Jane’s winter coat search as an example:

  1. Jane searches for a winter coat on Google and clicks the first result.
  2. She reads reviews and details on the coat and decides she wants to buy it. But Jane gets distracted by the latest viral cat video she overhears a coworker talking about. She leaves her browser and opens the YouTube app.
  3. Jane is reminded of the coat when browsing Facebook two days later.
  4. She clicks the sponsored post and adds the coat to her shopping cart. When presented with a coupon code field, Jane leaves the browser to search for an opportunity to save some money with a promo code. She forgets about the coat, again.
  5. Jane receives an email the next day lettering her know she can take 10% off for completing her order. She clicks the link in the email.
  6. Sold!

Understanding how your mobile buyers purchase from your site, consume content, or convert is key to being able to optimize for mobile users.

Keep a Close Eye on Your Metrics

Log into Google Analytics a few times a week to keep a pulse on your traffic. Pay particular attention to your organic traffic, especially if you have a Leadin or SumoMe newsletter signup interstitial on your site. If you’re noticing drastic decreases, it might be time to make some changes to your site and advertising strategy.

It’s only a matter of time before mobile-friendliness becomes the norm rather than a luxury. How have you tweaked your ad strategy for 2017 to align with Google’s mobile-first algorithms?

About Andrea Moxham

Creative, driven marketing and communications leader with a proven track record in strategy and implementation. Entrepreneurial spirit and experience with inbound marketing, social media, digital marketing, and public relations.