Categories: Analysis

How much AdSense revenue will the mobile update cost you?

Today is the day that Google will release its “mobile friendly update”, the much talked about change that will see sites penalised if they do not meet basic usability standards for smart phone users. Much has been said about the update already, and a thousand more blogs on the topic will probably be published over the next 24 hours alone. Not much of what has been said covers what AdSense publishers, and those reliant on ads from other sources can expect. This post aims to give ad publishers some assurance as to what to expect once the update goes live.

No one told me about a mobile friendly update?

Google have been pushing people towards mobile friendly solutions very heavily for a few years now.  AdSense users have had additional reminders through the “mobile friendly” scorecard in their dashboard since December 2013.  Few commentators were not expecting an update to be released to address the issue of difficult to use sites being returned to mobile users and Google did announce this back in February.   Since then there have been additional reminders through Google Webmaster Tools, AdSense emails and every blog covering anything relating to the web.  The topic has even made the national news.

In short, no excuses.  You should have known this was coming.

What is going to happen?

Google’s aims is to make sure that users of mobile devices aren’t returned search results that include sites that will be difficult for them to navigate. Therefore sites that fail to pass a simple four point mobile-friendliness test will be downgraded in the search results shown to mobile users.

How much ad-revenue is this going to cost me?

It is hard to answer this confidently, as we are missing one important piece of information: How heavy with the penalty be? At the moment we don’t know whether sites that fail the mobile-friendly test will be completely removed from the search results, or whether they will just be pushed further down in the results.

For the time being it is probably safe to assume that if you whole site fails the mobile-friendly test then you will be left with negligible mobile traffic. Let’s look at a real example to see what it looks like if that mobile traffic suddenly disappears.


The view above was taken from AdSense: Performance Reports > Platforms  and shows the revenue generated from each device type.  I prefer this to looking at pageviews in Google Analytics as mobile and desktop traffic often earn at very different rates.  In this example mobile traffic accounts for 37.3% of revenue, but if I switched to Google Analytics it would report that mobile makes up just 30% of page impressions.

Further down that page though (and not pictured) it does show you the Page RPM for different device types.  Note that now.

(If you are wondering how the site earns more on mobile, you should talk to us about mobile website optimisation!)

Does this mean that this website could lose 37% of revenue this week?

Thankfully, no. Like many sites our example site doesn’t rely on organic search for every visit.  Many of those mobile visitors will have come from other sources.  In fact, if we segment by mobile traffic I can see that 37.3% of mobile traffic comes from Organic search.

The view above was taken from Google Analytics : Acquisition > All Traffic >  Channels with the mobile traffic segment applied and ‘contribution to total’ set to page views.

This shows us that 39.3% of our mobile traffic is from Organic search.  That means that 14.66% of our revenue is as a result of a session that started with mobile organic search (37.3  x 39.3%).

Branded search to the rescue

Probably not, and this is where it gets hard to measure.  A fair proportion of those searches will come from branded searches : users searching for the website by name.  These searches should either not be impacted, or less so.  For most sites the best way to estimate the proportion of organic search coming from branded is to look at the top search queries in Google Webmaster Tools.  Downloading that report as a table and totally the clicks coming from brand terms will give a good approximation of the numbers.   In this case about 18% are branded, leaving us 82% as terms likely to be impacted by the update.  That takes our affected revenue estimate to 12.02%.

I’m also deliberately ignoring the question of attribution for now. I’ll leave that thorny topic for another time. Likewise there is a whole chicken and egg argument about whether sites that perform badly on mobile are already experiencing lower numbers than they should be.

Should you worry then?

If the above leaves you thinking “Maybe I shouldn’t worry”, then you have missed the point. The above numbers will vary greatly from one website to the next, but the point was to demonstrate how to calculate the likely impact. Comparing actual results will help you diagnose your own website performance and work on optimisation. If your website is not mobile friendly you definitely should worry. Mobile device use continues to rise and revenues for mobile users are starting to increase. Its too large and too important a segment to ignore.


Mat Bennett :