Opinion

Time is up, because Google’s mobile-first world is finally here

Google's mobile-first algorithm is finally here, so if your site isn't already prepared, you're probably too late, writes Orange Line's David Klein.

With most attention last week focused on Facebook and its mea culpa over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the wider fall out of just how secure your data is and of course cricket’s ball tampering saga, Google slipped out an announcement which could have a significant impact on indexing and search rankings of websites.

After more than 18 months of testing, Google has announced plans to change its algorithm, switching it to crawl, index and rank mobile sites first, as opposed to using a desktop version as the primary source for indexing.

In effect, what this means is websites will now be crawled by the Smartphone Googlebot rather than the desktop Googlebot. Of course, this doesn’t mean that desktop page content will no longer be crawled or indexed, but Google is making it clear that the future is very much mobile and for businesses and brands whose website isn’t optimised for mobile, there could be serious consequences.

In fairness to Google, this move had been signposted for some time and it’s not hard to understand why. Globally, in the 12 months ending March 2018, more than half (52%) of users accessed the internet via a mobile device, compared to 44% on desktop and 4% for tablets.

In Australia, mobile market share is slightly lower at 39%, compared to desktop at 51% and tablet at 10%. While desktop usage here remains dominant, mobile is growing fast and the tech giant wants to ensure its users are delivered the best possible content experience on the device they use the most.

As Google says in a blog post announcing the change: “Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”

The implications for businesses and brands in ensuring their websites are built with mobile first in mind are significant, but there are some things to consider when assessing the potential impacts of Google’s mobile move:

– Responsive sites that serve both desktop and mobile should be fine, as long as they are following best practice guidelines. These sites are doubly valuable as they rank well on both mobile and desktop because the design changes depending on the size of the screen being used.

– Google recommends that the content of separate and mobile and desktop sites be the same, including metadata.

– For those businesses considering a site rebuild, it is imperative to both design for the mobile user experience first, and ensure to lead with mobile SEO-best practice.

– Fast-page loading speed is more important than ever and will become even more important from July when page speed will become a ranking factor. First impressions count. Give users what they’re looking for, and do it quickly. Slow page loading has shown time and time again to have an adverse impact on conversion rates.

Google has said it will start migrating sites that follow best practice for mobile indexing first, but the message to webmasters who haven’t got their mobile house in order yet, time is running out. If a site is not optimised for mobile then expect to see the page ranking hit.


David Klein is founder and director at Sydney-based digital marketing service Orange Line.

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