Google’s mobile-first Index – Future of Mobile Algorithm
This post is by guest author, Andrew Gazdecki. This article has been edited and published with the author’s permission.
We’re in the age of the mobile device. Many of us grab our cell phones the moment we wake up, and it’s likely the last thing we see before we fall asleep. Digital marketers seem fixated on trying to label the ‘Year of Mobile,’ but this is just not enough; it is the Mobile Age.
Not convinced? Well, consider that Google is changing website indexing in favour of a mobile version of web pages over the desktop. And, pretty much anything Google says or does is guaranteed to have an immediate or foreseeable impact on the digital marketing world. You can safely take their word as gospel.
This mobile-first index will have a considerable effect on digital marketing, especially regarding search engine optimization (SEO), web design, and mobile development. Thus, this discussion aims to demystify this colossal shift by Google and look at the immediate steps you can take to prepare for the mobile-first future.
What Does Mobile-First Index Mean?
Indexing is how search engines, like Google, can retrieve relevant web pages and documents in mere moments after a search query is made. The information gathered and placed in Google’s search index is how they formulate their rankings for the results page. Traditionally, Google used to index the desktop version of a company’s website first, while the mobile-friendly version was treated secondarily. Mobile-first indexing means the opposite is now going to occur.
For some businesses treating their mobile website as an afterthought, consider this your wake up call! That said, it is important to note that the mobile-first index does not mean mobile-only. Google will still index your desktop website, but even searchers on a desktop will ultimately land itself on your mobile page.
Why Is Google Doing This?
Google is a business and, like any business, they are significantly concerned with their customer experience. Considering that mobile search has now surpassed desktop (mobile search volume is nearly 60% in the US now), it makes sense for Google to adopt a mobile-first approach. They know that the majority of their users are searching on mobile devices, so it’s only logical to display mobile sites first because these are the pages built for smaller screens and mobile navigation and thereby promoting the most consistently positive customer experience.
In a way, the mobile-first index is Google’s way of enforcing the creation of business websites that are great and functional on mobile devices. After all, when a Google searcher clicks on a website link on their mobile device that isn’t friendly to the smaller screen, it reflects poorly on Google’s search engine and their overall customer experience too.
What’s The Impact of Mobile-First Index on My Business?
The impact of the mobile-first index will be felt by all businesses. We’re talking about a fundamental change in how the world’s largest search engine operates. Google has made past changes to how their crawl bots rank pages in the past, just ask any SEO expert. But, these are mere drops in the bucket compared to this transformative change. It is going to have exciting implications in the way businesses develop websites and optimize them for search.
Considering this impending change and the impact it will have, businesses need to start preparing to ensure that the effect their brands feel is a positive one. In other words, you want your business to thrive in the mobile-first indexed world, not suffer.
In terms of SEO rankings, Gary Illyes and Paul Haahr of Google have said that the goal is for the mobile-first change to have minimal impact on current page ranks. However, this is not a guarantee that this goal will be met or that rankings won’t change over time to favour mobile sites.
With your mobile site about to become the version of your website, it stands to reason that there will also be a significant impact on how much traffic your mobile site gets. To accommodate this change, you need to ensure that your mobile site is optimized and has fast load times. This is a crucial consideration when preparing for the mobile-first index because slow sites, especially on mobile really deter users. A new technology called, Progressive Web Apps, is starting to gain popularity because of its mobile-centric features, like fast loading times.
A Quick Note For Websites With No Mobile Version Available
If you have no mobile version of your website, Google will continue to index your desktop site as the primary version. So, don’t feel that you need to rush to make a mobile site immediately to protect your SEO rankings. That said, it’s not a good idea to delay too much or avoid developing a mobile site altogether. Not only are you hurting your customer experience by not offering a site that is friendly to mobile devices, but the mobile-first index could, eventually, affect your SEO rankings by favouring competitors that have a responsive mobile site.
How Do I Start Preparing My Business For Mobile-First Index?
The answer depends on what your business has done thus far in response to an increasingly mobile-centric future. If you have a great mobile website that functions well on small screen devices and have fluid easy navigation and functionalities, then you’ve already done 90% of the preparation. There may just be a few small changes you’ll want to ensure, but nothing major. We’re already seeing a shift among white label app makers moving to a mobile-first approach using web technology.
On the other hand, if your business has neglected its mobile website, you’ve got a lot more work on your plate to prepare for the mobile-first index. Before you start hitting the panic button, there’s some good news that should alleviate any stress or worry you might be having about the change to a mobile-first index.
First, you still have time. Google is taking the rollout of the mobile-first index slowly. When they first made the announcement back in Q4 2016, they estimated that the process would be completed by the end of 2018. More recently, they said they don’t have an exact timeline for when the process will be completed, but they are most concerned with giving webmasters plenty of time to get ready.
Second, it’s Google. They are unmatched when it comes to equipping their users with all of the tools and know-how that they need to use Google products and adapt to changes like the mobile-first index. If you’ve used Google Analytics, Google Search Console or taken a look at any video series of blog content they’ve published, you know what we’re talking about. There are tons of tools and resources available to make this transition as painless as possible.
To start, take a look at Google’s latest on mobile-first indexing and scroll to the bullet point section. These are all tips straight from Google’s mouth on how to prepare for the impending transition.
Raising Your Mobile Site To The Next Level
Even if you’ve made the necessary preparations to get your mobile site ready for this new Google indexing strategy, your work isn’t quite over. A lot of webmasters are going to adopt the Google-recommended, responsive approach to their website development, which ensures that all of the links, content, images, etc. are present on both your mobile and desktop sites. But, that doesn’t guarantee that your mobile site and subsequent mobile experience is user-friendly.
The user experience is a big reason why webmasters have traditionally made lighter mobile versions of their websites. It wasn’t out of laziness or disbelief that mobile is all that it is chalked up to be, but rather a strategic move. Mobile pages need to be easy to navigate and put the most critical information right at the forefront, so mobile users can quickly and efficiently find the information they need on their smaller screen.
Shifting to a mobile-first index
means these light mobile sites will need to be more fully fleshed out with all of the keyword-rich content and other features that make your desktop website so comprehensive and valuable. This is the real challenge facing webmasters thanks to the mobile-first index: creating a mobile site that is robust, full of all of your most valuable content, but still friendly to how mobile users browse pages and consume web content on their devices.
Google is aware of this challenge, and there will be some changes to SEO to account for this. For example, an SEO best practice for desktop websites is to show all of the content and not hide anything with ‘Click to Expand’ tabs or ‘Read More’ links. The reasoning behind this was that Google devalued hidden content and often didn’t index it all. So, any keywords incorporated in that hidden text didn’t contribute to your SEO efforts.
This won’t be the case with the mobile-first future of Google’s search principles. They understand that mobile sites often use hidden content to improve mobile navigation. Otherwise, the user has to scroll down through giant blocks of text to find what they are searching for. As long as you’re hiding content to improve the user experience, Google will index the page as if all content were visible. This is just one of the ways that SEO and web development is going to change as a result of this big shift.
Considering the impact that mobile has had on digital marketing, Google’s mobile-first approach to indexing was just a matter of time. It’s going to greatly affect the way that we design websites and optimize them for search in the mobile space. Unfortunately, it isn’t certain how extensive the effects will be. We likely won’t know more until Google gets closer to finishing their rollout of the mobile-first index. The best thing you can do, as a business owner and webmaster, is to pay close attuned to Google and any news or blogs they publish with regards to a mobile-first index and take advantage of any and all tools they offer to make the transition easier.