How does Google’s mobile-first index change SEO?

Google recently announced mobile-first indexing in the hope of reflecting user trends and ensuring the web becomes as mobile-friendly as possible. However, most business owners, marketers, and others who deal with Google on a daily basis have no idea how the changes will affect SEO. With that in mind, this article will explain the ins and outs of Google’s plans, and what you need to do about them. Hopefully, by the time you finish reading this post; you will have a clear and concise understanding of mobile-first indexing and how you can use it to your advantage. SEO is one of the most vital elements of online success these days, and getting it wrong could ruin your ambitions and send you back to the drawing board. So, pay attention!

So, what is mobile-first indexing?

The term “mobile-friendly indexing” is self-explanatory, and you can probably guess what it means. For anyone who struggles, mobile-friendly indexing implies that Google will now use the mobile version of your website as the starting point for indexing within their system. The mobile version will now determine ranking, and so you should notice an increase in traffic from the Smartphone Googlebot on your site during the next few months. Google will also ensure that it uses your mobile site for any cached versions of web pages.

In instances where the website does not have a mobile version, Google will still index using the desktop alternative. That is why the concept is called “mobile-first indexing” rather than “mobile-only indexing.” However, it’s critical that all business owners, webmasters, and marketing professionals understand that the lack of a mobile-friendly version of the site could adversely impact rankings. With a bit of luck, you knew that already.

Up until recently, the desktop version of your site interested Google more than the mobile-friendly platform. Your mobile site was considered an alternative URL, and it didn’t have a vast amount of impact when it came to rankings. The situation has turned on its head, and now mobile sites have become the primary target for crawling and indexing processes.

So, what does that mean for you? Well, SEOs in the past would often place emphasis on the desktop versions of their websites. That is where they would add tags, backlinks, and keywords to ensure they achieve the best possible ranking. If your website is responsive, Google is going to test for various screen sizes from dozens of phones, tablets, and desktop screens. Check out the tests that can help determine your sites mobile health direct from Google below. Following the announcement from Google about mobile-first indexing, it is sensible for people in your position to put extra effort into making sure their mobile sites also contact all the same SEO elements.

Now I understand mobile-first indexing, what should I do about it?

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The first thing you need to remember is that Google’s plan to move towards mobile-first indexing is still in the early stages, and so there is no need to rush out to the office and make changes right now. At the moment, Google claims they are only rolling out the changes to websites that are ready to deal with them. So, it sounds as though people without mobile-friendly sites that cut the mustard won’t have to stress about this for a while.

However, there will come a time in the future when you need to adopt the new approach and ensure your mobile site is ready to impress the bots and rank in the best positions. Firstly, you’ll need to ensure your page and image loading times are suitable for the mobile experience. You’ll also have to consider and alter the following elements:

Content

Before you do anything else; you’ll need to make sure that the images, videos, and everything else you use on your site is suitable for indexing and crawling. You’ll also have to ensure all elements of the content are optimized for mobile. Don’t make the mistake of publishing keyword lists of keyword-stuffed content because that will work against your website’s ranking in the same way as it does right now.

Metadata

You shouldn’t need to make any changes to the metadata on your domain so long as you use almost the same descriptions for both the mobile and the desktop versions of your site. It is okay to alter the text slightly to improve character counts or something similar. However, you must ensure you use the same information.

Social metadata

Twitter cards and other forms of social metadata are vital for both the mobile and desktop versions of your site. Be sure to include as many of them as them on both editions if you want to guarantee the best ranking possible in search engine results.

XML and HTML sitemaps

Lots of people will make the mistake of creating duplicate sitemaps which should already work in parallel with AMP pages. That is a terrible idea now Google plans to use mobile-first indexing because it could have an adverse effect on potential rankings. Make sure you include trust signals too. That could mean adding links to your privacy policy page, etc.

Search console verification

Most business owners and marketers only bother to verify the desktop version of their site in Google Search Console. With the recent changes in mind, it is now sensible to ensure you monitor the crawl errors for mobile devices and other structure data issues. While it’s not clear what effect it might have if you ignore that advice, there is a reasonable chance that, yet again, it would make it harder for you to rank in the desired positions.

What if I don’t have a mobile version of my website?

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Don’t panic if you only publish a desktop version of your website at the moment because you have more than enough time to launch a new mobile alternative. If your site looks fine on your mobile phone and it is not zoomed out, chances are your site might already have a mobile responsive version. However, if you decide you don’t want to do that, Google will continue to index the desktop version of your website. It’s just that you might struggle when it comes to competing for rankings with other companies in your industry that provide a mobile-friendly experience. As there are hundreds of free WordPress themes that include responsive designs these days, it’s not like you need to spend a fortune to get a mobile version of your site off the ground. Sure, it’s sensible to employ professional web designers, but there are alternatives if money is tight.

What if my desktop site is bigger than my mobile version?

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There are some instances in which companies publish simplified and watered down versions of their site for mobile users. This is not longer a best practice and mobilegeddon should have prompted webmaster to act. That could mean the company has thousands of indexed pages from their desktop website, but only a handful from the one people see when they access the internet using their smartphones. As you can imagine, when Google makes the switch, those firms could lose many of their indexed pages. At the very least, they are going to move down in the rankings. So, what do you do about that?

Well, Google is not going to remove all the pages from your desktop site straight away. However, at some point in the future, the search engine giant plans to focus on crawling mobile websites rather than their desktop counterparts. You should prepare for that by making sure you add all essential elements to your mobile site in advance. Ensure you use valuable and useful content, and it should rank well in the positions where your desktop links used to appear. Many experts have speculated there would be 2 versions of the search engines which has yet to materialize. From now on, it’s time to work towards building a mobile version that contains everything your customers and clients need to know.

Will Google treat separate mobile websites and responsive sites the same?

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Mainly yes. The main difference between companies and professionals that operate separate sites rather than responsive versions of their desktop website relates to the amount of work they have to undertake. The best thing about using responsive web themes is that your mobile site will already contain all the same content as the one people access from their laptops. That means you shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time adding new content and bringing your mobile version up to speed. Those with separate mobile versions of their domains might have to dedicate a lot of time and effort to ensure they contain all the right information before Google makes mobile-first indexing commonplace.

So, the best thing website owners and entrepreneurs can do right now is to switch to a responsive theme and beat the gun. It could be a few months before Google makes mobile-first indexing standard practice, and so you have more than enough time to put preparations in place that will make your life easier further down the line.

Now you know everything about the ins and outs of Google’s mobile-first indexing plans, it’s time to use the information to tip the scales of balance in your favor and ensure you don’t lose out to the competition when the time comes. The fact that you bothered to read this article to the bottom suggests that you are committed to making sure Google’s changes do not cause adverse effects on your website or business. Hopefully, you are now ahead of the game, and so the chances of you getting this process right while your competitors fail are high. Who knows? Maybe mobile-first indexing could help you to steal the lion’s share of your market in a few months?

Test your site and find out if it is mobile-ready here:

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1. Google Page Speed Test

This test was one of the first mobile-first testings that were released by Google several years ago. It provides insides to make your site load quicker on both Desktop and Mobile.

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2. Google Mobile-Friendly Test

This test followed closely after when mobilegeddon hit a few years ago. It tells you if your site passes or fails the mobile usability test.

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3. Google Mobile Speed Test

This is a recent test that was released by Google in 2018. It is something which correlates to the connection speed of a mobile device. We would recommend paying close attention to this test.

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4. Google AMP Page Test

Since the sense of urgency is medium. We would recommend evaluating adding AMP pages to your site or theme. We recently saw an improvement in our predominantly desktop traffic.

Posted by Michael Zima

Michael Zima is best described as a “Data Artist.” A results-driven Web Analytics and SEO expert with more than 10 years of experience in digital marketing.