What is the Mobile-First Index?

Historically, Google’s ranking systems typically looked at the desktop version of a website’s content to evaluate its relevance to the users, and used this to inform rankings. However, once the Mobile-First Index is fully implemented, Google will instead primarily use the mobile version to rank a website.

Based on Google’s initial announcement, it’s clear that they’re running experiments on a small percentage of users until they’re confident it can be rolled out at scale. There are rumours within the SEO community that this is likely to happen within the first half of 2018, so it’s vital that you ensure your site is fully optimised for mobile as soon as possible.

Simply put, by making sure that your mobile site is performing at its best for usability, speed and overall user experience, you will be able to make the most of the Mobile-First Index for optimum search visibility, and ultimately, sales. However, if your mobile site is not yet ready, the Mobile-First Index could see you potentially lose visibility, with devestating consequences for your brand’s sales.

Is My Site at Risk?

Run your URL through our Mobile Usability Tool to find out more about how Google’s Mobile-First Index affects you.

Desktop-only Mobile Configuration, Separate Mobile Subdomains & M-dot URLs

If your website has a desktop-only mobile configuration, you will need to make the shift to a responsive website to avoid being left behind by the Mobile-First Index. If you have a separate mobile version of your site hosted on a subdomain, it’s likely that you do not have mobile-equivalent pages to desktop – maintaining both a mobile version and a desktop version is resource intensive, and can often lead to different structures and page content.

Deepcrawl recently ran a study on the top 1 million websites, discovering some interesting statistics on why separate mobile sites should be migrated:

  • 21% of separate mobile sites had no canonical to desktop equivalents
  • 18% of mobile sites had canonicals pointing to the wrong page
  • Only 8% of dedicated mobile website have matching title and meta descriptions

….and this is the top 1 million websites!

A year after first announcing the Mobile-First Index, Google recognised that m-dot URLs could also be at risk of being affected by the change. In September last year, they published a blog post on how to move m-dots over to a responsive website. We recommend using this handy primer to familiarise yourself with the process and understand how migration could benefit your brand.

Is This Mobilegeddon?  

In short, no. Google is using its position as king of the web to force webmasters to become more mobile-friendly, but ultimately, it’s about improving user experience and keeping up with how most people now use online search.

To help get your business ready for the Mobile-First Index, we’ve created a comprehensive checklist to support you in optimising your website for mobile:

  1. Mobile and desktop equivalent pages

Whether you have a responsive website, mobile version or dynamic configuration, you need to ensure that you have equivalent pages on desktop and mobile. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Meta information (title tags and meta descriptions)
  • Internal linking
  • Body content
  • Headings tags (H1, H2, H3 etc.)
  • Structured data

If your mobile version hides content behind tabs, accordions and expandable boxes, don’t panic! Google has made it clear that, where they’ve previously devalued hidden content on desktop, it will now be given full weight if used for user experience purposes.

  1. Mobile Page Speed

With user expectations of mobile page speed growing, Google has recently announced that they will begin to use page speed in mobile search rankings from July. This is the first major page speed update in 8 years, and with the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project picking up speed (pun very much intended), we can only assume Google will continue to prioritise page speed going forward.

To check your mobile page speed, Google has a handy tool at https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/ This has recently been updated to include both an optimisation score and speed score. The former provides a score out of 100 based on performance best practices, and the latter incorporates data from the Chrome User Experience Report to show real world performance data about a page.

If your site scores below average, this indicates that there is some work to do to get your website fully optimised. Google has made it clear that the page speed update will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience, so it will only impact a small volume of queries.  However, we recommend that you aim to get your website optimised for mobile as possible. Aside from benefitting your rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs), page speed has been shown to correlate with lower bounce rates, high user engagement and increased conversion rates.

mage shows mobile first index update for 2018 by Silverbean

 

  1. Mobile Usability

With the shift to mobile, you need to make sure you have a mobile website that is as user-friendly as possible. According to Google, 74% of people say they’re more likely to return to a mobile-friendly website in the future and 67% say they’re more likely to buy a product or service from a mobile-friendly site.

But how do you define mobile usability? Fortunately, Google provides a mobile usability report inside Google Search Console, so you can check whether you have any issues. Some of the more common issues are:

  • Flash usage – Google can’t render this legacy technology, so they won’t be able to see your content. Migrating to more modern technologies will improve this
  • Viewport not configured – Your page size should be relative to the user’s screen size
  • Small font size – Use font sizes large enough, so users don’t need to zoom in to read your content
  • Touch elements too close – clickable elements should be far enough apart that a user doesn’t select the wrong option, as this can be frustrating and off-putting for them

mage shows mobile first index update for 2018 by Silverbean

It may feel like there are a multitude of changes for you to make to your site to get ready for the Mobile-First Index, and that the potential impact on your organic search visibility and sales could be dire. However, there’s no need to panic.

Our team of Search experts can help you make the transition to Mobile-First, getting your site ready for optimum mobile usability, user experience and performance. Get in touch with us today and find out how we can help you to cement your brand and accelerate your sales in the mobile age.