Have you ever whipped out your phone at a restaurant in search of a random fact about a movie, song or book, just to prove that know-it-all friend wrong? Have you ever needed local listings, directions or restaurant recommendations, and instinctively reached for that friendly, glowing rectangle in your pocket?
If you’re a human being in the modern world today, the answer to one, or most likely both questions is probably “yes”. Let’s face it, we are years-deep into the mobile revolution, and there’s no turning back now.
Desktop computers are great. But, of course people are going to use a device that’s by their side 24/7 far more often than a stationary computer screen, or more cumbersome laptop. In fact 3 out of every 5 searches occur on mobile devices now, far surpassing the number of desktop searches. In 2018, mobile has become the new normal.
If you’re in doubt, check out these stats:
How, what, and when people search online has changed with the rise of mobile. Images, art, videos & streaming are all impacted, and inevitably shaped by the way people now access the internet.
So, what does that mean for SEO and search engine rankings? How has the mobile-pocalypse affected what shows up on our screens when searching google?
The internet is big, and phones are small (I’m sure you’ve guessed that already). More and more information is added to the internet each day, as phones become more and more ubiquitous. History’s most massive resource of information (i.e. the internet) indexed for an object that fits in the palm of the hand (i.e. your phone) is the next big challenge search engines face.
A “good website” or a high-ranking link on a desktop is not necessarily considered such on mobile. So, Google has flipped the switch and is officially changing its platform to Mobile First Index. This changes the game for anyone who has a website online. It means mobile accessibility is king. It means your website better function on mobile or you’ll be left in the dust.
So, get with the times and meet the new mobile standards with gusto! With big change comes big questions, so here’s some helpful information about Google Mobile First Index.
1. What is Google Mobile First Indexing?
Google became the world’s #1 search engine because the relevance of search results in relation to the user. In the past, googlebots evaluated a website’s relevance based on the desktop version. But, now the majority of their users are searching via mobile, and thus they want the results to cater to this demographic.
Google Mobile First Indexing reflects user trends in hopes to make the web more mobile friendly. From now on, Google will rank the mobile version of your website rather than the desktop version. This applies when searching on both desktop and mobile.
Simply put, if your site is optimized for mobile you will rank well on any computer or mobile device. But if your site is not optimized for mobile your rankings will drop significantly. Google Mobile First Indexing puts well performing mobile sites above well performing desktop sites.
2. How Does a Mobile First Index Affect an Average Website Owner?
Not all websites will have to change due to Mobile First Indexing. There are three website scenarios out there right now. Depending on which one your website is, will determine how Google mobile indexing will affect your website, and what you will need to do to meet the new standards.
• Responsive Sites
There are plenty of mobile responsive sites out there right now. This means the website is designed to function on mobile and desktop. Mobile Responsiveness changes the design of the site to fit the size of the screen. The user experience is entirely different when using a mouse on a large horizontal screen, versus a small vertical touch screen, and good mobile responsive design responds to both.
Now, this is different from “mobile-friendly” design, which means the design is formatted for mobile but remains the same on desktop.
Google encourages mobile responsiveness because it’s the best of both worlds. People won’t stop using desktop computers anytime soon, so when building your website, it’s always best to design for both formats.
For example, Living Proof Creative helped create a full fledged, 360-degree shopping experience for YOLO Board that is completely mobile responsive, as shown below.
As you can see on the mobile version, the imagery and font size adjusts for a more visually pleasing experience, as well as a customized category menu. It’s a finely tuned mobile and desktop format.
If your site is mobile responsive, Mobile First Indexing will actually benefit your rankings.
• Separate Mobile and Desktop Sites
This is when a website that has separate URLs for mobile and desktop, also known as an M-DOT site. A good example of this is Facebook. When you search for Facebook on your mobile browser you will notice the URL of the Facebook is m.facebook.com. Before Mobile First Indexing, Google crawled the desktop version, and the website was ranked accordingly. However, with Mobile First Indexing, Google now crawls the mobile version.
For many sites, the mobile version is a stripped-down version of the desktop site. For Google, this can spawn poor search results, as the snippet in the search results may not exist on the the mobile site, resulting in an inaccurate search result.
The comparison below shows how the desktop version of a site contains valuable, rank-worthy content that isn’t included in the mobile version.
If your website is an m-dot site, Google recommends that your mobile and desktop versions contain the same content, including text, images (with alt-attributes), and videos. Structured data should be present on both versions of your site. Be sure all the titles and meta data are the same as well.
• No Mobile Site
If you don’t have a mobile version of your website, you’re not alone. There are still a ton of those out there, and Google knows this. Mobile First Indexing won’t write these sites off. The Googlebot will still crawl desktop URLs. However, you won’t receive priority and your rankings will suffer. Mobile First Indexing is just that – mobile first.
A non-mobile friendly sight is very apparent, the moment you see it. Like the example below:
In order to survive as a online business you must at least be mobile-friendly, preferably mobile responsive. With Mobile First Index, Google is prioritizing websites that look, feel, and function best on mobile.
3. Best Practices for Mobile First Index
Of course the best strategy for Google Mobile First Indexing is to implement mobile responsive design. Create a mobile-first strategy for your website following these best practices.
• Design for Ease of Use on a Mobile Device
Keep it simple! The number one thing to keep in mind when optimizing for mobile is to simplify everything. Remember that users are more likely to view your site using touch screen, so the UX needs to reflect that.
• Make It Fast
Site speed plays a vital role in mobile optimization. More so on mobile devices, users want their information fast. Because of this, Google has now made site speed a factor in Mobile First Indexing. But, we will address that more in depth in the next section of the blog.
• Avoid Interstitial Pop-ups.
No one likes being interrupted, and Google knows this. So, there’s been a crack-down on pop-ups on mobile, also known as intersitals. You want your websites user experience to be distraction-free. Avoid SEO penalties from Google by implementing the call-to-action in a more subtle creative way, in order to keep the leads coming. Like inserting the CTA into relevant content.
• Optimize your content for mobile
Content will always be a driving force for your website, and quality meaningful content will have no problem ranking well with Mobile First Indexing. Simply rethink the layout of the articles.
Break up the content into smaller paragraphs, and use pictures and infographics to splice up large, wordy chunks. A balanced combination of written content and visual content will give your users a much better mobile experience.
• Build a Fluid Site Grid
Designing a site grid that is proportionate to whatever screen it’s on, rather than a fixed measurement, is crucial to mobile responsiveness. Phones and handheld devices are getting smaller and smaller, while desktops are getting wider, with increasingly better resolution. Responsive design is not only designing for a smaller screen, it encompasses all varieties of devices. Fluid design works with the strengths and faults of each and every screen dimension and size.
• Implement Flexible Texts and Images
Your website’s fonts and images need to be fluid as well. Be sure your images scale accordingly to the screen size and dimensions. Verify that your images works in both landscape and portrait. Always provide the correct text size for each viewing device, so it is clear and readable.
• Create a User Friendly Mobile Menu
You want your mobile navigation to be short and sweet. Remember to list the important pages first and consider the search navigation as well. Font size and color contrast is key, especially for small screens, so always keep that in mind. And always design the menu for touch.
• Reduce the Need For Text Entry
Use every opportunity to reduce the need to input text. Typing on a mobile device is more difficult, so think of ways to replace the need for typing with a button or list. Mobile users don’t have use of a keyboard or mouse, so find creative alternatives to minimize the challenge of navigating your website.
4. Importance of Mobile Speed
A fast website is an all-around useful thing. It reduces bounce rates and encourages conversions. There’s no doubt about it, speed matters.
As mentioned before, speed is another factor Google Mobile First Index will use to rank your website. These days users expect split-second results, and Google realizes this is a real element in making a site successful.
Although speed has been part of Google’s ranking for a while now, the switch to Mobile First Indexing means it will be focusing on mobile speed rather than desktop speed, starting in July 2018.
Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, helps your page load 4x faster and works seamlessly with WordPress to optimize your mobile website speed. AMP is an open-source website publishing tool and is basically a streamlined version of HTML. This “diet-HTML” is lightweight to increase loading speed.
If you’re not sure of your websites speed you can easily check it for free with Google’s PageSpeed Insights. And, if it turns out your website is more sluggish than it should be, Living Proof Creative can help you ramp up the speed.
5. How to Prepare Your Website for Future Updates?
Google Mobile Indexing has been a long time coming. With the smartphone tech-boom over the last decade, many foresaw the inevitable turn to handheld-device-based searches. So, what’s next?
The web is constantly changing and morphing, shaped by user habits and the rapid rate of technological advancements. So, how do you plan for inevitable future updates?
Keep the users first. Understanding user trends is the safest way to ensure your website is relevant. That’s how Google operates. User demand is the largest determining force for Google Mobile Indexing, and it will be for the next update, and the next one after that.
Many predict a deviation from URLs and a higher emphasis on APIs. Though we are a ways off from a complete app take over, things seem to be trending towards web-app experiences. Apps are more difficult to build and maintain, but they are a customized, user friendly experience with faster load times.
The future of indexing for Google is pretty clear. In order to work between URL, API and all web based entities, artificial intelligence has to be utilized. CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, even said, “We will move from mobile first to an AI first world.”
For now, having a mobile responsive website filled with relevant content is all you need to have an impactful presence online. But, it’s always good to look ahead. Is your company ready to start planning for the future? Living Proof Creative can help you transition into the dynamic, user engaging world of API development.