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Algorithm Changes: Google and You
Google presents search results based on a complex algorithm, which takes into account more than a hundred different factors, and weights them in various ways. This algorithm – which isn’t revealed to anyone – changes constantly, and Google doesn’t always tell website owners when it’s changing, or what has changed.
For instance, there might or might not have been an update on the 7th of February; nobody outside Google knows for sure (although there’s plenty of evidence). There are, however, changes that they do tell people about, and some of these are even known in advance. This article will look at some changes that are expected over the next few months, and discuss ways in which they might impact on your eLearning website’s findability.
Recent Changes to Google’s Algorithm
The most recent change to the algorithm was in January of 2017 and was one penalizing ‘aggressive interstitials and pop-ups that might damage the mobile user experience’ (according to Moz, which tracks all such changes). This is part of Google’s ongoing quest to improve the experience of people using the search engine – both on their own pages and on the pages on other websites that people click through to. User experience is notoriously difficult to measure, but Google has the advantage of volume.
If they can see that people, having clicked on a site that has intrusive popups, are back searching for the same terms within seconds, they can say that there is a strong correlation between the existence of those popups and an unsatisfactory experience. And they have the power to take steps to change that, by excluding such sites from their index, or by pushing the results further down in the results pages.
And unlike most changes, Google wants this particular detail to be known – if people take the action of removing the bad popups from their websites, that’s exactly in line with the overall aim. To this end, as the Moz listing notes, they gave warning of this change a full five months in advance.
Major Change Coming
Mobile-first indexing is the label given to Google’s long-heralded new approach, which was officially outlined in November 2016. What this means is that whereas before, the desktop version of any given website was the ‘authoritative’ one, the mobile site will now be considered in that role. Previously, this has meant that if your mobile site was not great, but your desktop site worked well, you were not penalized.
That’s now going to be reversing. Again, this is with focus on the user experience – more and more people view websites on mobile devices now, and it looks like Google are expecting that balance to continue to change. The interstitial penalty detailed above is a step in that direction, and while Google isn’t yet giving a date when the mobile-first index will become the default, it’s best to assume it’ll happen in 2017.
What does this mean for your eLearning website? First, you need to ensure that your LMS can handle mobile use gracefully. LearnUpon behaves beautifully on mobile devices, so you don’t need to worry about that.
Next, you’ll need to make sure that any websites that you’re using to promote your courses work properly on mobile as well – the chances are that a number of visitors are arriving on those pages from organic search.
Viewing the website on a mobile device yourself will tell you fairly quickly if it works or not, although the number of business owners and stakeholders who have never done this is always amazing.
If any of the websites connected with your eLearning setup don’t work well on mobile – including filling in forms and using navigation, not just pages loading – then you have a few months to get that fixed. You’ll need to talk to your web developer, and either provide a separate version of the site for mobile which works as well as (or better than) the desktop version or replace the whole site with one which is responsive and will work well on any device.
Test on different mobile devices (Android, iOS, and differing sizes, for a start) at every stage of the development process.
There will be future changes in the Google Algorithm as well. Generally, trying to get ahead of Google with technical tricks is a game you’ll lose in the end – and there are very few businesses that can afford not to appear in the major search engine. But if you try to make the user experience the best it can be on all devices, you’ll be safe in the long term.