Mobile has been a key focus of Google’s for quite some time now. It used to be that when consumers prepared to make a buying decision they would flip through the phonebook to find listed companies before choosing one to do business with. That type of research was replaced by internet research, and now the majority of consumers rely on their mobile devices for their online activities.
The comScore graph below shows how the number of mobile users surpassed desktop users in 2014. In 2015, the number of mobile searches also surpassed desktop. Google’s mobile-first focus is simply adapting to this global trend.
Google’s search algorithms have been focused on mobile internet activity for several years now, introducing a large mobile-friendly push in April 2015 where companies saw a boost if they were deemed mobile-friendly. However, the latest mobile-first indexing goes further to help connect mobile users with the online content they are looking for.
What is Mobile-First Indexing?
To answer this question, we must first understand how Google works. In simple terms, Google collects information on every webpage and puts it in a massive catalog, also called an index. It uses this index to formulate and display the search results that come up when users submit a query, also known as a Google search.
Until recently, Google has primarily collected data and viewed webpages through the eyes of desktop users first and mobile users second. However, in November 2016, Google announced that they will be changing the way they determine search results by moving to mobile-first indexing. In other words, this means Google’s algorithm will no longer base its rankings off your desktop version of the webpage, but rather will use the mobile version.
Now, the content showing for your website on mobile devices is the first thing Google will use to determine search results. The desktop version of your website is still important, but it is secondary to the mobile version. Simply put, a webpage with less mobile content and content that is not mobile-friendly will not rank as well.
“Mobile-First Indexing means Google’s algorithm will no longer base its rankings off your desktop version of the webpage, but rather will use the mobile version.”
Is Your Website Prepared for Mobile-First Indexing?
Not only does your website have to be mobile-friendly across devices in how it looks and can be navigated, which is where having a responsive web design comes into play, but the content has to be present too—if it’s not, it will not rank as well. It was quite typical in the past to have less content present on your mobile site, however, this now needs to be re-evaluated. If your site is missing content, your site could now be missing from those search results!
How to Improve Mobile SEO?
There are three ways to implement a mobile website:
1. Responsive web design
This is when your HTML and URLs will stay the same across both sites, regardless of how the user is accessing your content (desktop, mobile phone, tablet, etc.). It will respond to whatever screen size the user is using and display your content in the most user-friendly way. Responsive web design is Google’s favourite design pattern and your best strategy for effective mobile SEO.
2. Dynamic serving
This is when you use the same URL regardless of the device, but generate a different version of HTML, meaning a different website design and content for each device type based on what the server knows about the user’s browser. The impact of mobile-first indexing comes into play if your desktop site is significantly different from your mobile site, and your mobile site has less content. You want to make sure your mobile content is optimized and user-friendly.
3. Separate URLs
This is when you have different HTML and URLs for each device. Google will try to detect the user’s device and then redirect them to the appropriate page for that specific device.
If your website is using dynamic serving or separate URLs, you have to make sure that you’re not missing important content on your mobile site that could interfere with its SEO. You also want to avoid adding large amounts of HTML content markup that isn’t relevant to the specific content of each page on your mobile site. HTML markup on content would include headings, lists, tables, anchors, images, and quotations. Sometimes these elements will make a mobile site less user-friendly.
If your desktop site is completely mobile-friendly—meaning it has a responsive design, is easy to use on mobile, and has all your key content—then you have nothing to worry about. Google will index your content across both versions of the website the same and without issue.
If you’re developing a brand new site, design for mobile content, usability and speed first and your desktop version second. Make sure everything works on your mobile version, including forms, audio and visual, and other key functions. Google also considers a positive or negative user experience when producing search results. Of course, always make sure your content has been optimized for search engine results, use structured data and think local search!
Use this mobile-friendly test from Google to see how your website ranks. After entering the URL you want to test, this tool will let you know whether the page is mobile-friendly or not (keep in mind, it isn’t looking at what content you have, it’s just looking to see if what you have is mobile-friendly), and how to fix it if necessary. To do a site-wide mobility test, you can go to your site in Google Search Console > Search Traffic > Mobile Usability.
Is your company’s website mobile friendly? If so, does the mobile version have all the same key content as your desktop version? If not, it could be doing a lot more damage than just creating a frustrating experience for users…it could be deterring them from finding you all together.
If you have questions or need assistance to ensure both your desktop and mobile sites are search-friendly, speak to your developer or reach out to us. We’d be happy to help!