Last month, Google announced its move to mobile-first indexing. Mobile-friendly websites are no longer a feature; they are now a requirement.
Responsive designs are paramount because mobile users have surpassed the numbers of desktop users, especially those looking for local businesses.
Not only will the increased bounce rate and click back hurt your site (Google tracks these and adjusts rankings accordingly), but Google has been using mobile readiness as a ranking signal for three years now, so any savvy business owner should already be on top of it.
Few things make a mobile user back out of your website faster than a page that doesn’t load properly. Sites designed purely with 16- to 30-inch monitors in mind are a lot different in their layout from something made for a smartphone.
What Is Mobile-First Indexing?
What does this mean for you? If your website isn’t designed with mobile in mind from the ground up, be prepared to take a beatdown in SERPs. Google will create and rank its listings based on the mobile version of your site, even if the user is on a desktop.
Above all else, mobile-first indexing is a nod to the changes in how we use the internet. Before now, Google’s spider bots that crawl, rank, and index websites used the desktop as the standard, default version. Since we now use mobile devices more than desktop devices, the “default” no longer makes sense. Mobile-first indexing means that now Google will be using the mobile, responsive version of a website as the new default, better helping the majority of people to find the content they are looking for.
Sites that aren’t mobile-friendly still get indexed. If you’re still kicking it old school and your site isn’t mobile-friendly, your content simply won’t rank as well. That was already the case, but now it’s even more so.
Mobile-first indexing isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. Google is rolling the experiment out slowly, meaning that there are currently two indexes for SERPs—one for mobile, one for desktop. Users will gradually be added to mobile-first indexing, though there is no way to know who is using which index.
You can bet it won’t be too long before the mobile index is the only index, assuming Google doesn’t encounter any problems that require a reversion back to the old method.
Making Your Website Mobile-Friendly
It’s better to have a flexible, responsive design rather than separate versions for mobile and desktop users. Is your website mobile-friendly? You can see how you’re doing with this free test.
The first step in updating your site is to make it friendly to mobile devices. There are a few ways you can go about this.
1. Create a mobile version of your site.
The “Band-Aid” approach takes your desktop site and creates a second site from it that is responsive. This isn’t the best long-term solution, and you’ll often have less content and information available on the mobile version of your site, but it will, at least, get you compliant.
2. Use a mobile plug-in
If you’ve used convenient website platforms like WordPress or Squarespace to design your desktop site, plugins like JetPack and WPtouch are very easy ways to update your site for mobile access. Look here for your website development software, and Google will help you find the right plug-in.
3. Build from the ground up
The above steps are simply patches to your problem. To provide the best user experience (and the best site for Google to crawl), start with a new, responsive design. It’s the ideal way to provide the most consistent experience for users of your website, whether they are on desktops, tablets, or smartphones.
Other Factors to Consider
While we recommend you construct your site with a fully responsive design, those who still have a separate mobile site should review the following areas to optimize their site for mobile-first indexing and the best user experience.
Content: Mobile versions of sites often lack much of the quality content that exists on the desktop version—content that the Googlebot will crawl and use to rank your site. Make sure your mobile site includes your precious content. Images and videos shouldn’t be so large as to slow down your site, and should include alt-attributes.
Metadata: Make sure the titles and meta descriptions are optimal for each page of your site. Use keywords that you want to rank for which also reflect the content of the page. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this great guide to writing meta descriptions.
Schema.org markup: Structured data is simply another vocabulary that you can use to tag your content, helping it communicate better with Google and other search engines. It enhances the rich snippets displayed in your search results, adding things like ratings, reviews, and publication dates, and can even land your valuable content at the top of SERPs. Visit Schema.org for more information.
Sitemaps and other loose ends: Make sure your sitemaps are accessible from the mobile version of your site. While you’re at it, check your robots.txt and make sure you’ve verified the mobile version of your site in Google Search Console.
Prepare for Mobile-First
If your website is already responsive or optimized for mobile, Google’s mobile-first indexing shouldn’t have a significant impact on your place in SERPs. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, your content will still be indexed, but your rankings could be affected.
When you’re not sure where to start or if you’re not ready to handle site-wide optimization yourself, your inbound marketing experts are here to help.
~ Brodie Tyler