Google’s mobile-first indexing – what does it mean and how to prepare?
While it has been on the horizon for some time, mobile-first indexing has now arrived and looks set to cause quite an impact. To make sure your content reaches the right audience, it is vital that it is well positioned in SERPs and, from now on, making your mobile site a primary SEO focus will become an increasingly central element of that.
Previously, Google’s focus when crawling and ranking was on the desktop version of a website. But, as technology has developed, so too has the way that people access the internet. Research by ComScore shows that mobile users in major European markets rack up more than double the amount of time spent online than their desktop counterparts. This is also reflected in major markets across the world, including Japan, the US, Argentina, Brazil and Indonesia.
Because of this shift towards mobile usage, Google’s focus has changed. Now, their priority is delivering search results based on their relevance to mobile users. Previously a GoogleBot crawl would have been completed using an 80/20 split in favour of desktop. Mobile First will keep the same split, but instead will favour mobile versions of websites.
Should I be worried?
If you aren’t ready, don’t panic. For now, Google are just changing the way they collect content. This change will impact rankings in the future, but not just yet. This early stage will only affect which version of your site information is pulled from. Responsive sites will not see a difference, but those that have separate mobile and desktop versions of their sites will notice that information, including URL and meta description, will now be pulled from their mobile site.
It is also important to remember that this change is to mobile first, not mobile only. Desktop-only sites will not be penalised, however, it is a clear signal that Google see the future as increasingly mobile, and are prioritising accordingly.
How do I prepare?
Synchronise your metadata
If you have two versions of your site, it is vital that your titles and meta descriptions match so that users sees the same information, regardless of whether the information is pulled from the desktop or mobile version. As long as the same information and keywords are in place, your meta descriptions do not have to be identical and can still be optimised for mobile.
While titles and meta descriptions are the very basics, don’t forget to make sure other aspects such as your social metadata, sitemaps and schema markup are all included on both versions of the site.
Other steps to take include ensuring your URL hreflang points to the correct version of the site, and verifying both versions of your site with Search Console.
Produce quality content
As with most questions around SERPs, there is no way around creating quality content. No matter which device they are viewing your site on, users are looking for the same content, so don’t compromise on your mobile versions.
The days of the flip phone with a tiny screen are long gone and even smaller smartphones have high-quality screens that are four inches or more, so don’t assume mobile is just a stripped-back version of a page or site. Build pages with detailed copy and visuals as you always have and make sure that your images include alt text so they’re crawlable and indexable on both mobile and desktop.
Optimise for speed and usability
While the detail of the content should be the same regardless of the device, site speed is especially crucial on mobile, as slow loading times are now a ranking factor.
Site speed is also vital for mobile users, who are more likely to be looking for a quick answer to their query and sluggish loading times could see them bounce from slow-loaders to more efficient sites. The Page Speed Insights tool is a simple way to identify the steps you need to take to increase your site’s speed.
While page content can be the same across mobile and desktop versions, page layout should ensure that the mobile version is not restricted by poorly sized buttons and menus. Again, Google has useful resources – the mobile usability report and mobile-friendly test – designed to help you identify issues with your mobile site.
Best practice is to treat the mobile version of your site as the primary site so that images, content and layout are all built with mobile use as a primary consideration.
While Mobile First is in its early stages, it is setting down a clear path for how content will be ranked in the future. Rather than panic, this is a great opportunity to improve your site’s mobile performance and the quality of your content so that when rankings are included, your site will be well positioned to improve its standing in the SERPs.
The Google update is called Mobile First (capitalised, no hyphen), but the broad approach is written as ‘mobile-first’ because it’s a compound adjective (hence the hyphen) and not a proper noun (hence lower case).