Google's mobile search update could hit retailers hard

Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) big search algorithm switch happens today, meaning mobile-friendly sites will enjoy the most searchability, and retailers, especially small businesses without mobile-friendly sites, could take the biggest hit.

The new search algorithm was announced in February and will give higher rankings to sites that are mobile-friendly. For Google, that means sites are meeting five major criteria: Users don't have to pinch and zoom to navigate; the site doesn't feature incompatible software like Flash; text is large enough to read; links and buttons are spaced out enough to be easily tapped; and the site doesn't block components such as Javascript and style sheets that are necessary to render the page.

If your brand's site meets all of those requirements, then you can relax. But according to research released by Somo last week, many major brands aren't ready for "mobilegeddon" and will have to scramble to minimize the damage done to their traffic numbers. Using Google's own Mobile-Friendly Test tool, brands including American Apparel, Clairol, Versace and Cotton Traders were all set to be punished by the new algorithm.

And with Google accounting for so much search traffic, even major brands will take a hit. EBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) lost 80 percent of its top rankings during the last algorithm update, and since the top spot in any search gets as many clicks as the next five combined, that's a big loss.

But while all brands should be on the lookout for a drop in their rankings, Duda CEO Itai Sadan told Business Insider that small-business owners could be the ones hit the hardest, since they are more likely to have missed the memo on the new searchability requirements.

Their dependence on local search results also makes them especially vulnerable, because a drop in ranking among searches of, for example, coffee shops in San Francisco, could result in a big drop in foot traffic.

"Google has always been about relevancy, and content is king," Sadan told Business Insider. "But that's changing. Yes, they're saying content is still extremely important, but user experience is just as important. It's not sufficient to have all the right content. If people come to your site and the content is there but it's not readable, that's not good."

For now the algorithm change will only impact search results on phones, leaving tablet results unfazed. But considering that mobile now makes up about 60 percent of all digital traffic, retailers of all sizes should be ready to up their mobile game if their search ranking plummets in the coming days.

For more:
-See this Business Insider story
-See this Somo study

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