Mobile-First Indexing

Measurably Daring™

Mobile-First Indexing is one of Google’s latest development in a move to make the web a more mobile-friendly space. This highly anticipated shift reflects a change in user behaviour which saw mobile overtake desktop as the primary browsing device for the first time in 2016 and while usage for both continues to grow, all eyes are on mobile:

Source: Twitter

How does the Mobile-First Index work?

Before the mobile-first index age, Google would use the desktop version of a website as the baseline to determine rankings but with the roll out of Mobile-First Indexing, it is now the mobile version that will be used as the primary version of your website, as demonstrated below in a recent Moz post:

Source: moz

What does it mean?

As this is a major change, the process has taken quite some time but the shift towards a Mobile-First Index is very much in full swing. Google started switching over sites to the Mobile-First Index based on the individual readiness of the site, but now mobile-friendliness is almost expected and it would be wise to ensure that your site is mobile friendly.

If you don’t already have a mobile version of your site and your desktop version is not remotely mobile friendly, Google will still crawl the desktop version (as demonstrated above).

In terms of moving forwards if you’re not able to get an optimised mobile site, don’t rush. An optimised desktop site is better than a hastily put together mobile site that’s riddled with errors.

How to prepare for Mobile-First Indexing

With the Mobile-First Index rollout going full steam ahead, it’s vital to be prepared and know what areas we should seek to optimise:

  • Site Speed: Even with a responsive site, page speed and load time are highly decisive ranking factors. Mobile sites should aim to meet the 3-second load time industry benchmark set by Google. This is backed by Google’s research stating 53% of people will leave a mobile page if the load time exceeds 3 seconds and although the benchmark seems daunting, there are ways you can optimise your existing website to improve site speed:
    • Optimising images
    • Enabling compression
    • Leveraging browser caching
    • Minifying CSS, HTML and JavaScript
    • Avoiding redirects

Along with optimising a standard mobile website, there are also other formats available, specifically the following, both of which are developed with mobile and speed in mind:

  • Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
  • Progressive Web Apps (PWA)
  • Content: When serving a mobile and desktop version of a website,mobile versions should reflect their desktop counterparts and websites should refrain from delivering a lighterversion of their content on mobile, this is especially applicable when a mobile version uses a separate site configuration. On top of content, the primary information architecture should be the same on both mobile and desktop if you want to maintain similar rankings across both versions, so take into consideration where content appears on the, ensuring priority content exists higher on the page.
  • Structured Data: Ensure both mobile and desktop versions of your site use the same structured data markup. Structured Data is especially useful in search and can give search engines more context about the content on your site.
  • Metadata:If serving a separate mobile website, ensure the title and meta descriptions on both mobile and desktop have the same information and relevant keywords included. Keep in mind that snippets on mobile search engine results pages (SERPs) will have shorter character counts before being truncated.

How to tell if your site is in the mobile-first index

With Google rolling out testing of Mobile-First Indexing as early as October 2017, if you’re not already, you should at least be thinking about what this will mean for your website.

To identify whether you’ve been affected by the change yet, here are two main ways:

  • You’ve received a notification through Search console that mobile-first indexing is being used on your site.
  • Checking your server logs and identifying the crawl frequency of Google Smartphone.

This shift towards becoming mobile-first has a lot of people talking about how websites will be affected but essentially, if a website is optimised, responsive and otherwise the same on both desktop and mobile from both and content, performance and experience perspective, you’re in a strong position and chances are your organic performance will remain unaffected.

The shift to mobile-first is a shift to changing user behaviour, whilst there will be teething issues initially due to the scale of change in search, it’s a change for the better that reflects how users are searching.

Article by Sarah Salameh