Google’s search results are finally going to catch up to the shift towards mobile.
With more searches occurring on mobile devices than ever before, Google recently announced that it will start experimenting and tweaking their index to be mobile-first – a major shake-up in the status quo of how sites and pages will be ranked.
What does a mobile-first index mean for marketers? It doesn’t mean that there will be two separate indexes, rather Google will begin prioritising mobile content over desktop websites when it comes to rankings.
The change in Google’s algorithm has been a long time coming, given that the usage of smartphones and tablets has long eclipsed that of desktop. With Australians spending 552 million hours Googling in 2015, marketers cannot afford to lose their hard-earned rankings (and traffic) when this mobile-first index is eventually rolled out to all users.
The websites that will be most affected will be those that serve different forms of content to users within a desktop or mobile environment. If you have a responsive web design, you’re least at risk however there are plenty of opportunities to optimise and improve your rankings.
It’s still too early to properly understand the mobile-first index’s impact on rankings, but there are several things marketers can do to equip themselves to make the most out of a mobile-first world.
Mobile friendliness is key
If your website isn’t mobile friendly in Googlebot’s eyes, this should be your first port of call. Google’s own mobile friendly test tool will help you determine if your site is considered mobile friendly. Another useful tool is Google’s Mobile Usability Report which will flag usability problems such as interstitial pop-us, touch elements being too close to one another and fonts that are too small to be legible.
Web developers have been known to omit content on mobile versions of websites to keep things light, but Google’s Gary Illyes has confirmed that content hidden for UX purposes will not be devalued.
Ensure Googlebot sees your website accurately
If you employ a mobile website that has a different URL and content from your desktop site, you should firstly test how Google crawls and renders it via the Fetch as Google tool. Be sure to also signal the relationship between your desktop and mobile sites.
This is an invaluable check as you may discover that your page doesn’t render correctly or if there are other factors preventing Googlebot from crawling your site.
Populate your mobile site with content
If your mobile site is a simplified version or has less content than your desktop site, this could mean that you could potentially lose out on search traffic for long tail keywords.
With Google going mobile-first, marketers will need to adopt a similar approach as you will only be able to rank on content that appears on your mobile site.
Speed up your mobile experience
In addition to making the browsing experience smoother for mobile users, working on cutting down load times on pages for those on mobile devices will help improve your site’s search performance.
It’s not inconceivable for Google to factor a mobile website’s PageSpeed into rankings. Their own PageSpeed Insights tool offers a helpful diagnosis and easy-to- understand solutions on how to implement fixes to accelerate website performance.
If your website has a robust blog or content hub, implementing the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) format so that content is served even faster is also likely to become more important when the mobile-first index rolls out to everyone.
It is important to note that Google is still experimenting with the mobile-first index and nothing is truly set in stone until they’re confident that they can provide a great experience for users.
In spite of that, it’s clear that Google is priming the web for the inevitability that is a mobile-first world.
Matthew Margey is SEO manager at Scorch iProspect