A survey on the behavior of internet traffic shows that by the end of the year 2018, more than 79 percent of global internet traffic will be coming from mobile. It’s worth to mention that mobile traffic has already exceeded desktop traffic and they are coming from smartphones and tablets. So Google takes the initiative to make their search algorithm more mobile friendly. In November 2016, Google first announced its mobile-first index and after a year and a half of careful experimentation and testing Google has officially begun to roll out the mobile-first index.
The main goal of the mobile-first index is to have one search index based on mobile content to serve listings for both mobile and desktop users. So in SEO, we are not optimizing for the desktop anymore. We have to transfer our focus on mobile optimization as from now on Google will determine the ranking of a website on how well your website is optimized for mobile search.
In this article, I’ll go over the basics of what exactly mobile-first index is, how it works, what should be your SEO strategies and how you can maintain SERP ranking with this change.
Table of Contents
What is Mobile-First Index?
The definition of the mobile-first index is very simple. It means that the mobile version of your website becomes the focal point for Google to include in their index and the reference point for how they determine the ranking of your website. That means if you have a site optimized for mobile, you’ll rank well on both mobile and desktop. But, if your site doesn’t perform well on mobile, it will drop your rankings on both mobile and desktop.
People sometimes mix the phrase “mobile-first” with “mobile-only” index and become confused. But the reality is a website without mobile-friendly version can still be included in the index. However, the lack of a mobile-friendly experience will impact negatively on the ranking of that website.
How does Mobile-First Index work?
As of now, Google has indexed a website based on its desktop experience and the content that exists upon it. But with the introduction of the mobile-first index, the process will be different from now on. Now Google will look for perfectly optimized images, a fast page speed, and text that you can read without any inconvenience from mobile devices. See the image carefully and you will understand how mobile-first index works.
The Impact of Mobile-First Index on SEO
With every algorithm changes, there is impact on SEO. Here are some impacts of the mobile-first index on SEO:
- Being slow will kill your SEO efforts. If your website has a slow mobile experience then you might want to consider putting work into the mobile page loading speed.
- You must have an optimized mobile website instead of a mobile-friendly website.
- Shift focus on users from robots. Google wants your website to have great user experience over SEO parameters.
- You have to reduce the use of lightbox ads, lead-generation popups etc. as they might be troubling the users.
- Both the content served on desktop and mobile must be similar or must have less differentiation. Google wants to bring consistency in the type of content served on desktop and mobile.
SEO Strategies for Mobile-First Index
Now that you know the effect of the mobile-first index, the next thing comes to your mind is, “how do I deal with the impact of mobile-first index” or “what will be my SEO strategies”. Well, the thing is, not everyone has to do tons of work to cope with this change. It depends on your current site architecture. You may be fine right now or may be far behind. Here are some SEO strategies for you if you are not ready for the mobile-first index. They are:
Get a Mobile-Optimized Website
First let me clarify one thing, “mobile optimization”, and “mobile-friendly” are not the same thing. There’s a difference. Mobile-friendly means that you have a site that can be viewed on mobile. On the other hand, a mobile-optimized website makes your website responsive to mobile gadgets, automatically adjusts the layout of your website to fit the size of the mobile being used. Here are some characteristics of the mobile-optimized website:
- The columns of the site will adjust accordingly
- The text will shift without breaking
- Content and navigation will be hidden in certain places
- The images will collapse or expand accordingly
If you are in a dilemma whether or not your site is mobile-optimized, then perform Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. This will let you know if you’re on the right track.
Increase the Page Loading Speed
A report on mobile benchmarks from Google shows that the majority of sites in every industry are 3X slower than the best practice of three seconds. With each added second on your mobile page speed, there is an increase in bounce rates of your website. With the introduction of the mobile-first index, Google urges the webmasters to make the page load faster. So, making your mobile site faster is the key to get ahead of the game. You can use Google’s Test My Site Tool to examine your mobile site’s speed performance. This tool scans hundreds of different factors including:
- Mobile usability, sizing objects, text readability
- Make comparison against industry benchmarks
Another very big aspect of the mobile-first index is mobile-optimized content. Make sure the content is easily accessible to users and not hidden under accordions for them to click and read. Moreover, try to serve valuable content, no matter what the length is. Your visitors will enjoy reading it as long as the content is engaging. Don’t forget the reasons for inaccessibility of content as it can increase bounce rate and decrease your ranking in SERP. They are:
- Pop-ups that cover the main content on the page
- Standalone interstitials that users have to close to view the original content
- Using a layout that makes the fold content appear to be an interstitial, but the original content lies at the bottom
However, legitimately obligated popups like cookie notification or log-in information is not a part of it. Moreover, Google clarified the fact that it would index content that is part of accordions.
Create AMP Pages
Add Structured Data
Structured data markups help bots discover the content on a webpage. Generally, webmasters prefer to use structured data markup on desktop versions of a website and the mobile version is ignored. But with the introduction of the mobile-first index, everything changes. Now you have to make sure that the essential data markups are present in the mobile version of your web page. Moreover, you have to include the mobile version of the URLs within the structured data on mobile pages.
Implement Progressive Web Apps
- Progressive – Regardless of browser choice, it works for everyone.
- Responsive – Adjustable to desktop, mobile, tablet or whatever is next.
- Safe – HTTPS provides the safety and ensure the content has not been tampered with.
- Re-engage able – Features like push notifications make the re-engagement very easy.
- Installable – Users can easily install the app and keep the app on their home screen.
- Linkable – Anyone can easily share the app via URL.
Optimize On-Page SEO Component
I have said many times in my other posts that on-page SEO components are the fundamentals of SEO and no matter what changes Google brings, they will always play a crucial part on SEO strategies. So make sure both desktop and mobile version of your website has the title, Meta Data, interlinking, image attributes, etc. are in their place or my friend, you are in big trouble.
Google Search Console Verification
If the mobile version of your website is not verified in Google search console then it’s the right time to verify your mobile site in Google Search Console. This will help you get live, up to date information about crawling, indexing, and any issues on your site.
XML Sitemap and Robots.txt
If you are a webmaster then you must know the importance of XML sitemap and robots.txt in SEO. Now that mobile-first index is in action, it’s necessary any links to your XML sitemap are accessible from the mobile version of your website. The same goes for the robots.txt file as there could be consequences if this is not accessible properly.
Google’s mobile-first index is a reality now and it will change the internet. But it doesn’t mean that you have to change your total SEO strategy. Instead, do an audit of your desktop and mobile sites, find out the issues that provoking the guidelines of the mobile-first index. Fix those issues and you will find yourself all set for the change.
I hope the editorial gives you an overview of the mobile-first indexing. Feel free to share your opinion or any suggestion regarding the topic in the comment section.
Opu Chowdhury is an experienced Digital Marketing and SEO Strategist in Bangladesh who possesses a wide range of skills, including expertise in Digital Marketing, SEO, Content writing, YouTube Marketing, Facebook Marketing, Website audit, etc. He can create effective strategies to optimize online presence and improve search engine rankings.