But now there is even more reason to make your website look great on smartphones. Google has recently rolled out mobile-first indexing to continue its efforts in making the web more mobile-friendly.
But how much do you know about mobile-first indexing? In this article, I’ll share all that you need to know about mobile first-indexing and how it affects your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.
What Is Mobile-First Indexing?
As suggested by its name, mobile-first indexing means that Google will use the mobile version of your page for indexing and ranking before using the desktop version. The aim is primarily to help mobile users find what they’re searching for.
You don’t need to panic if your site isn’t in this first wave. Mobile-first indexing isn’t about how content is ranked. It’s about how Google accumulates the content.
Content collected by mobile-first indexing doesn’t necessarily offer an advantage in ranking. Even if you only work on a desktop site, you’ll remain represented in Google’s index. But the absence of a mobile-friendly experience could hurt your site rankings because it will load the content slowly when opened on a mobile device.
Mobile-friendliness isn’t the only factor Google uses in ranking. It still considers all of the other ranking factors, such as keyword density, content quality, and links. Therefore, your page can appear higher in the search rankings if it performs well in other areas. However, Google had started to prioritize mobile-friendly sites when they announced that slow-loading content will be ranked lower. As such, I urge webmasters to create mobile-friendly content now.
Will Google Use Different Indexes For Both Versions?
Google plans to use only one index to serve both mobile and desktop users. During the rollout stage, two indexes will be used: mobile-first and desktop-first. A smaller group of people will get search results from the mobile-first index but they don’t actually know what they’re really using.
As Google becomes confident in the effectiveness of mobile-first index, it will be the only index to be used. If the new index is not helpful, then it will be rejected and ranking will be based again on a desktop-first index. After all, the mobile-first index is an experiment.
According to Google, their search index will remain a single index and their algorithms will eventually mainly use the mobile content to rank the site’s pages. This could mean that mobile content becomes an even more important factor in ranking your site.
How Does Mobile-First Indexing Affect Your Site?
Depending on the way you manage mobile, this change may or may not impact your site. If you have a responsive web design, you’ll see no change as your site suits all devices. Your site will conform to any screen size but, of course, you need to consider other dynamic elements to optimize mobile experience.
There is also no change when all your pages are made in an accelerated mobile page (AMP) HTML or your site is desktop only. The mobile version shows the exact format as the desktop version. Again, make sure that you optimize the page to improve your ranking.
You’ll probably notice some changes if your site has:
● Separate URLs: Every desktop URL has a different parallel URL that acts as the mobile-optimized content or m-dot site.
● Dynamic serving: Users will only view one URL. Your site offers different content on any device.
Google favors the mobile URL for indexing. To get ready for mobile-first indexing, we recommend that you follow the tips below.
How To Prepare For Mobile-First Indexing?
If your site has a dynamic serving or works on separate URLs, here are the changes you need to do for mobile-first indexing:
Create Similar Content
Your mobile site should have similar content to your desktop site. I’m not just speaking of the actual copy. You need to check all features including videos, text, and images. Don’t miss out something because Google will be looking at your mobile site for indexing.
You should show what you think your visitors need. If your mobile site contains less content, update it now so it’s equivalent to your desktop version. Here are other things that you need to check your content:
● The flexibility of text and images
● Default zoom capacity
● Sufficiently big “tap targets” (default is 16px)
● Finger-friendly design (ideal is 44 pixels of whitespace surrounding the elements)
● Implemented mobile switchboard tags
● Browser caching
Remember that Google penalized sites that put content behind tabs or accordions? Well not anymore. With the forthcoming switch to the new index, Google has realized that there will be insufficient space. This is a good thing as it offers you more design alternatives.
Provide Structured Data On Both Site Versions
Relevant structured data should exist on both your desktop and mobile versions. The mobile version’s URLs in the structured data should be the same to the mobile URLs. Don’t add more structured data if it’s not important to the particular page content.
Reduce HTTP Requests
Minimizing the number of images or getting rid of them fully is one way to reduce your load time.
Put Metadata On Both Versions
Metadata should exist on both the desktop site and mobile site if they are separate. Ensure that the metadata is equivalent to both versions of your site. You may want to make shorter mobile titles but ensure to include the same information and significant keywords.
Now, if your site has separate URLs, here are additional tips to consider:
Verify Both Versions
To ensure that you have access to data for both mobile and desktop versions, validate both versions in Search Console. Your site may encounter a movement in data when Google changes to mobile-first indexing.
Check hreflang Links
Link your mobile and desktop URLs separately if you want to globalize with rel-hreflang link elements. Make sure that your mobile URLs’ hreflang is directing to your mobile URLs and the desktop URL hreflang to desktop URLs.
Ensure Sufficient Server Capacity
With the rollout of mobile-first indexing, you can expect a potential rise in crawl rate on your mobile site. To be prepared for this development, make sure that your servers have adequate capacity.
Leverage Mobile-First Indexing To Your Benefit
Making use of mobile-first indexing to your benefit is all about providing users the best experience as possible. To get you started, you need to check the mobile-friendliness of your site. How?
Enter your URL in Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, then click “Run Test”. The tool will tell you whether your page is mobile-friendly or not. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, Google will offer recommendations on how you can enhance it.
If you have optimized your content for mobile, you shouldn’t have a problem with search result performance. You should focus more on user experience and make your site seamless and fast. Before you move forward, here are things you should check:
Make sure that you can view all contents of your desktop on any mobile device. This includes the exact format of images and text.
Page Speed And Loading Time
A page that loads more than three seconds is a potential problem. You should determine what slows down the loading time and fix it. Use GTmetrix to find out what’s slowing your site down.
Is It Mobile-Friendly Or Mobile Responsive
Yes, friendly and responsive are two different things. Mobile-friendly means your site is optimized for mobile while a responsive one is mobile-first. A mobile responsive site modifies content better to the smaller screen than a mobile-friendly site.
If your site isn’t responsive, ensure you put your main content on your mobile site. As I’ve said before, Google will be looking at the mobile version of your site as the main source of content. You won’t have a problem if you have a responsive site because it will just conform to any user device.
Similarity Between Both Versions Of the Site
Mobile versions are usually the weaker versions of desktop sites. This likelihood is even higher if you have a separate URL for mobile. If you’re guilty of this common blunder, do your due diligence.
Remove Pop-ups And Any Hover Elements
Pop-ups can be infuriating on a desktop, much more on the small screen of any mobile device. A pop up to gather emails for your list is okay but that’s not the right way to do it. Instead of pop-ups, you can use floating bars.
Hover elements are similarly annoying, too. There is no way to manage hover elements yet. So I recommend that you remove them if you have any.
Don’t Use Flash
Flash has compatibility issues on many smartphone devices. If the device doesn’t support the installation of Flash Player on the device, then the user can’t view your site. Use Java, CSS3, or HTML5 instead. Many of Flash’s features can be at least offered by these newer coding technologies.
Don’t Create Large Graphics
Large graphics are one element that will slow your mobile site down. Besides, landscape pictures don’t come out well on smaller screens. Just tone it down with the graphics if you want a seamless user experience.
Test the appearance of your mobile site on real devices. Visit each page and determine the loading speed, etc. Do the test regularly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is The Mobile-First Indexing Impacting My Site Now?
This new indexing is still on its rollout stage. Google has been testing it on a few sites, which were chosen based on assumed preparedness. A wider rollout is probably going to take a few more years. Google has also confirmed that the process of assessing sites for mobile-first preparedness has already begun for a handful of sites.
Google is taking the process slowly to help webmasters prepare their sites for mobile users. Because of this, Google has no definite timeline for when it’s going to be fully used. But it is still important to get ahead of the curve.
Will My Mobile Site Be Used To Determine Rankings?
As discussed above, mobile-first indicates that Google will use your mobile version as the main version for ranking. However, you may still rank with your desktop version even if you don’t have a mobile page. The ranking results will vary between mobile and desktop search results, so make sure to monitor both.
How Do I Know If My Site Is Evaluated With Mobile-First Indexing?
Through Search Console, Google will tell you that your site is moving to mobile-first indexing. So ensure that the mobile version of your site is validated in Search Console. You’ll also notice a dramatic rise in the Smartphone Googlebot crawl rate and Google will use the mobile version of your pages in search results.
What If I Only Have A Desktop Version Of My Site?
If all you have is a desktop version of your site and it’s not mobile-friendly, then it’s a problem. Your content may still be indexed but it may be downranked. Your overall rankings on desktop and mobile search results will be affected negatively because it offers poor user experience.
Should I Be Worried By This Change?
Google didn’t expect the rollout of mobile-first indexing to give that large effect on search engine rankings. However, it doesn’t mean that Google won’t be eager to downplay any potential effect from mobile-first indexing since its first announcement in 2016. There shouldn’t be an issue if your web pages have a responsive web design.
If you need help creating a mobile responsive website or a mobile-friendly version of your website, our team are here to help. Get in touch today!