Google going mobile: Mixed messages from the Colossus

Amid antitrust investigations and record profits, one thing is certain: Google is definitely going mobile!

Recent announcements in the media have made it clear that Google’s new search algorithm will favour mobile sites.

Samuel Burke, CNN’s Business correspondent, referred to the update as “MobileGeddon” because it could result in Armageddon for some businesses – and it wouldn’t be the first time. Even the slightest change to Google’s algorithms can have a huge effect.

A set of simple criteria have been established to determine what constitutes a good mobile site, i.e. a responsive site that looks nice and is easy to use on a phone or a tablet.

The first visible effect of the change in your search results will be fewer sites with a lot of heavy graphics and Flash, i.e. highly designed animations that take a long time to load.

This approach has already been prophesized in point blank terms by several prominent experts. Avinash Kaushik, digital marketing evangelist and Google co-founder, shared the following warning remark in his piece 11 Digital Marketing Crimes Against Humanity: “Remember every time you use flash on your website, a cute puppy dies. Think of the puppy!”

Other dead ends will be pages that require scrolling and pages that rely on zooming.

Sites that are simply pushed on to mobile will therefore have a problem, and the changes may have a dramatic effect on online businesses on a global scale. Regions like Australia, where 66% of the web content is still limited to desktop format, have the biggest cause for concern.

An interesting observation is that places like Africa and Latin America, which developed a presence on the internet relatively late, already have websites that are optimized for mobiles and no doubt will do very well.

Google has always kept the official algorithms a secret, even if some criteria have been known since the early days. A high number of incoming links, for example, suggests high quality content and is rewarded with a better search rank. Other factors that might affect scoring include how long the site has existed, the strength of the domain name, how often content is updated and content media diversification – use of videos, images and podcasts.

A brief recollection of previous page ranking algorithms highlights Google Panda and Google Penguin. The first was first released in February 2011, aiming to lower the rank of sites heavy with advertising. The policy resulted in a surge of higher rankings for news websites and social networking sites. It affected the rankings of almost 12 percent of all search results and generated a wave of complaints.

Google Penguin was first announced on 24 April 2012. The update aimed to decrease search engine rankings of websites that were not in compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by relying on the so-called black-hat SEO techniques, such as trying to increase the ranking of a webpage by manipulating the number of incoming links.

Now, some time for reflection:

Is Google playing God or do they simply want what is best for the user?

The swift execution of the new policy coincides with the European Commission sending a statement of objections to Google. The EC claims that Google have abused their dominant position in the markets of the European Economic Area (EEA) by systematically favouring Google Display ads in search results pages, even though those products may not be the cheapest or the best for the users.

The Commission has also formally opened a separate antitrust investigation into Google’s conduct with regards to the mobile operating system Android. The investigation is based on allegations of abuse, due to Google’s dominant position in the field of operating systems, applications and services for smart mobile devices.

Interestingly enough, the EU’s website is not optimized for mobile. Will Google push their website down the list? For its general web search service (so-called “horizontal” search), Google has a market share of over 90% in the European Economic Area (EEA).

Our everyday battlefield scenery of a computer-ruled world diverts our attention to other ways of measuring our reality. An interesting ranking source is the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 50 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 1970’s. Ranking at number 17 is “Colossus: The Forbin Project”. The story goes as follows: Colossus is a supercomputer built to control the US nuclear defences. Shortly after it is turned on, it detects the existence of Goliath, its Soviet counterpart. The two end up linked, thereby becoming a new supercomputer that threatens the world.

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