Get Ready – Google’s Mobile-First Indexing is Upon Us
On March 26, Google announced that it was beginning to roll out its “mobile-first indexing” – something that it has been planning and testing for well over a year.
The decision was certainly based upon a number of studies, like the recent one from Stone Temple Consulting, showing that more than 55% of web traffic now occurs on mobile devices. And this trend is not slowing down. And so, Google has made the decision to index pages from mobile sites first.
What Mobile-First Indexing Means
Traditionally, Google has indexed the desktop version of a website, looking at user experiences, backlinks, keywords, content, popularity, and so forth. Now it will do the same – but for the mobile version instead.
If both the desktop and mobile versions of a site are essentially the same, this change will not impact a site owner. Google will see the same thing that it has always seen.
But, if a mobile version does not contain the same content, there could be a problem. Google may have indexed pages of the desktop version and given them a high rank; the same may not happen for mobile, because the content/pages are now missing.
The other issue, of course, is if there is no mobile version of a website – hard to believe in 2018, but there are sites that exist only in desktop versions.
How to Prepare for the Change
There are several things you can do to make sure that you are prepared for this new indexing.
1. Take Google’s Advice
Google has been pretty open about this switch and has published a post with valuable information. This post will be important to read, but, in general, there are two important points being made:
- If you have a responsive site (all key content and markup is essentially the same on both desktop and mobile sites), things should be fine without any changes.
- However, if you have a desktop and mobile site that do not contain the same configuration, content, or markup, then you will probably need to make some changes. If Google is ranking your desktop pages well, then you will want the mobile site to have the same content.
Of course, there are other details and recommendations in the post, so it would be a good idea to read through it.
2. Get Responsive Immediately
This will entail some investment, but it is critical. The point of responsive design is that one URL will bring up the same content on all devices and will keep users and search engines happy.
While having a different mobile site is still common, because designers tried to condense and consolidate, the transition to responsive should be made as soon as possible. With the new mobile-first indexing, it will not be long before non-responsive mobile sites will be penalized.
3. A Non-Responsive Site Must Contain Primary Content
If you do not have a responsive site, then the next best thing is to have all of the primary content from your desktop site on your mobile site too. Google will be looking for it, and if it is absent, your ranking will suffer.
4. Content Within Tabs and Hamburger Menus
Google used to penalize desktop (and mobile) sites that hide content behind tabs and hamburger menus. With its mobile-first indexing, however, it is obvious that some content will have to be behind these. Google will therefore not be discounting what is “hidden” anymore. Hidden content will now be counted as normal content, and that’s a good thing for designers of mobile sites.
5. No Mobile Site?
Organizations that do not have a mobile site, rather than one that is not responsive, actually may fare better. At this point, if there is no mobile site, Google will continue to index the desktop site.
But here’s the thing. Given that over half of traffic is already mobile, not having that mobile site eliminates a lot of potential traffic that is critical to business growth.
If your design is responsive, each page of your website will look the same on any size screen. There are other things you need to do, though, to ensure that the mobile version is performing well.
- AMPlify. While this is not an absolute necessity, Google does like AMP, and it does increase mobile-friendliness. If you have a WordPress site, you can install the AMP plugin, along with the Glue Plugin for Yoast (if you are using that). AMP loads pages quickly, and that keeps users happy.
- Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool. You can do a quick load speed test, and get a score from 0-100. And if the speed is not good, you will get suggestions for what to do to fix that.
- Test with Google Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. This goes beyond just load speed. It delves into your layout. Again, if you are not mobile-friendly, the tool will tell you what should be fixed.
- Use Google’s Search Console. This tool will tell you if any pages of your mobile site are not performing well, and will make recommendations. This is not a one-time shot. You need to use this tool on a fairly regular basis, and you can actually crawl through your mobile site as a bot would do.
As this new indexing rolls out, there will be many more insights and suggestions to come. Your job is to keep abreast of all of them and to continue to monitor and improve your mobile site. It’s not just a matter of keeping search engines happy; it’s a matter of getting solid growth in traffic because your user experience is amazing.
So, here’s the wrap-up:
- If you don’t have a mobile site, get one now
- Your design must be responsive so that users see the same things no matter what screen they are using
- Study this new indexing – Google is being pretty transparent about it
- Use the tools that Google has provided to ensure that your mobile site performs well.
You may also want to read: 6 Proven Ways to Create a Mobile-Friendly Website
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