Why Google’s Mobile Speed Update Smells Like Trouble for Small Businesses

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The most common trope peddled by SMB solution vendors in the tech world—and not incorrectly at that—is that most small-business owners and operators do not have time to concern themselves with the ins and outs of technical problems.

That’s not an indictment or critique of small businesses; it’s a simple fact of life for shop owners who typically lack the time and resources to spend their days surfing the tech blogs like we editors and pundits or to delegate technical responsibilities to specialists.

Given this much-discussed state of affairs, Google’s announcement yesterday that it had begun applying its mobile speed update, which could downgrade sites on mobile search that load slowly, to all pages should be cause for concern for those of us attuned to the needs of mom-and-pops and other small operators. 

Why? The update’s potential ramifications aren’t obvious, even to those in the know. Facing questions about whom the update will affect and how businesses can know whether they will be affected, Google seems to have demurred and deflected

When asked by Search Engine Land what percentage of pages would be affected by the change, Google said only that a “small percentage” would see their pages downgraded. When asked how sites are to know whether they will be affected, Google pointed to the Chrome User Experience report, the Lighthouse tool, and PageInsights tool, but it’s overall advice, reiterated twice in a series of eight questions from SEL, is to “think broadly” about the mobile user experience. And even that list of three tools can hardly be said to constitute an efficient, lucid set of metrics for the nontechnical operator without spare minutes to burn.

We also learn from SEL’s back-and-forth with Google that “there is no tool that directly indicates whether a page is affected by this new ranking factor,” leaving one to wonder whether local businesses with small workforces and no technical specialists will even realize they have been bumped down. It’s also sensible to question whether larger competitors of small local businesses might not benefit; they are more likely to have the budgets and personnel necessary to address these sorts of changes.

One has to give Google credit for announcing the mobile speed update several months in advance. But the murky guidelines surrounding just whom and how many people and sites it may affect—and how exactly businesses in the line of fire are to amend unsatisfactory practices—spells potential trouble for small businesses.

Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015. You can contact him at [email protected]