After a year and half of judicious experimentation and testing, Google has officially announced the rollout of mobile-first indexing.
Mobile usage and popularity are at an all-time high. Not only are mobiles the preferred device of the majority to browse the Internet, mobile actually drives more traffic than desktop, according to a study by Stone Temple. Another research undertaken by Hubspot shows that mobile is becoming the preferred online device for consumers regionally.
With the rollout of the mobile-first index, it is high time that website owners should get their optimized for mobile.
What is The Mobile-First Index?
Simply put, the mobile-first index means that Google will be referencing the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking a website.
Why so? Typically, Google has indexed and ranked websites based on the desktop version of the site which can lead to issues for those searching from mobile. This problem is magnified when the content served on the desktop is different to the content served to mobile users.
To avoid any confusion, you should know that Google will continue to have one single index. The mobile-first index is not separate from the main index. However, Google will be using the mobile version of websites, whenever they are available, to serve search results.
Will Your Rankings Change?
Google has specified that rankings won’t be affected based on mobile-first indexing. The mobile-first index is about how Google collects content, not about how they rank it. Content collected from the mobile versions of the site will not have a ranking advantage over content collected from the desktop version.
Moreover, sites that don’t yet have a mobile-friendly version don’t need to panic. You shouldn’t be putting out an average mobile site. You should stick with your desktop site and start working on a mobile-friendly version.
Google Will Notify You
When your website is shifted to the mobile-first index, you’ll be notified via Google Search Console. Additionally, site owners will see a notable increase in the crawl rates from the Smartphone Googlebot
You will receive a notification similar to what is shown in the following picture:
If your website has only a desktop version or has a responsive design or a canonical AMP version, there will be no changes and the mobile version will be the same as the desktop version. Mobile-first indexing will be implemented when there is an m-dot site(m.example.com) or content is being served dynamically to the users depending on the device.
Best Practices for Mobile-First Indexing
If you want your website to be ready for Google’s mobile-first index, then be sure to follow certain best practices to get some of that Google love.
1. Content on your mobile site and desktop site should be the same
Typically, content for a mobile version of a website is shorter. However, that can be harmful to rankings since long-form content tends to rank better. You should be aiming to show the same content to both mobile and desktop users.
With the mobile-first index, content hidden in tabs and accordions will be given full weight, unlike before. Here is a tweet by Gary Illyses, a Google representative.
2. Structured data on both versions of your site
If you are using a mobile version of your site(m-dot site), be sure to update the correct URLs in the structured data for the mobile versions.If you use Data Highlighter to provide structured data, check the Data Highlighter dashboard for extraction errors.
3. Add metadata to both versions of the site
Titles and meta descriptions are important factors, both for Google and the users. Add proper metadata to both versions of your website.
4. Improve page speed
Google’s focus on AMP and encouraging sites to improve their loading time is a clear indication of the importance of page speed. Even though it isn’t a huge ranking factor, optimized page speed can have a huge effect on user experience and ultimately lead to better conversions.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights or GTMetrix to check and improve your page speed.
- Compress images
- Leverage browser caching
- Minify CSS and JS files
- Use a CDN
5. Verify both versions of your site in Search Console
Verify both versions of your site in Search Console to ensure that gain access to data and messages for both versions.
6. Check your robots.txt
Verify that your robots.txt file is rightly set up. You should have the same directives for both versions of your website.
Switch Over to Responsive Design
A final tip is to switch over to responsive design as soon as possible. The lack of redirect and serving the same content from a single URL leads to a better user experience and improved SEO. Also, the same codebase allows for easy maintenance and updating.
While m-dot sites and serving content dynamically works for now, it is only a matter of time before Google makes you go responsive.
If you don’t already have a mobile site, it is time to start working on building one. You are missing out on 56% of the web users. However, don’t rush because of the mobile-first indexing. Invest both time and money in having a mobile version of your site, preferably a responsive design.