Mobile device usage, which has surged in recent years, has become a major focus for Google. Because most people conduct searches on a mobile device, at some point within the next year or so — no one knows for sure — Google will switch to a mobile-first index of search results.
As the CEO of an SEO services company, I know firsthand how important it is to stay ahead of the game and stand out from your competitors. Below is a breakdown of how to prepare your company for a mobile-first strategy. But first, it’s important to understand the basics.
What Is An Index?
When you type a query, Google does not search the entire web for the results it thinks you will find useful. That would be inefficient and slow. Instead, Google’s web crawlers “crawl” the internet — visiting, organizing and saving web pages to a database called an index. When someone types, for example, “how to make brownies” in the search box, Google scans the pages it has saved in its index to find the best results.
The pages that Google saves in its index are tailored for a desktop browsing experience. But starting in 2015, more searches were conducted on mobile in 10 countries, including the U.S. and Japan. Now, Google is moving toward the creation of an index that’s tailored and optimized for the mobile browsing experience.
This has big implications for businesses that get most or all of their leads from Google’s organic search. Here are some things business owners can do to prepare:
Have A Mobile Site
This may be obvious to some, but actually having a mobile site is a good first step toward preparing for Google’s mobile-first index. There are still countless businesses that lack a mobile website. Accomplishing this is essential if your lead generation activities depend on organic search.
Make Sure Your Site Is Mobile Responsive
There are basically two ways to make a mobile site:
- Create a clone of your current desktop site and put it on a subdomain of your main domain (typically, m.example.com). Then, style that mobile site so it looks good on small screens.
- Create a mobile responsive site, one that displays content based on the screen size of the visitor. This option allows you to make a mobile site that functions well, works for users and is good for Google.
When it comes to the mobile-first index, creating a responsive design is the best way to go. That’s because Google is seeing the exact same version regardless of screen size.
Here are some of the issues with a separate mobile site:
- Extra work: Because you now have two websites, you also have to update two websites.
- Duplicate content issues: These aren’t necessarily a big deal, but they must be mediated.
- Diffusion of link equity: Simply put, links are important for first-page rankings. When links are pointing to your desktop site, they aren’t helping the mobile version and vice versa.
- Display issues: Google may only index the mobile version of your site. This means that people are going to see your mobile site displayed on a desktop, which can cause a wonky site experience.
Leverage The Mobile Context
Websites designed for desktop miss the mark on mobile usability primarily because we don’t use websites for the same purposes on mobile as we do on desktops.
For example, people searching on mobile are often looking for items like contact information. Having a phone number on the header of every page so that people can easily click to call could be one strategy for leveraging the mobile context. Here are a few others:
- Make buttons, links, text and other elements large enough for people to easily view and use on a mobile device.
- Place important actions above the fold on mobile devices.
- Ensure that pages load quickly (more on this next).
Focus On Mobile Site Speed
Site speed is a Google ranking factor. The faster a website loads, the more time people spend on it and the more likely they are to return. Speed is even more critical for mobile versions of sites because mobile devices lack the processing power of larger computers.
Here are some of the most common culprits for slow page load times:
- Large images that need to be compressed
- Excessive amounts of HTTP requests (did you know that every image on a webpage counts as another HTTP request?)
- Caching issues, which happen when a browser always looks for the most recent version of a page instead of saving a copy to load it faster the next time
If you run your site through the testing tool, you’ll notice that many of the issues are highly technical in nature. Find a good developer to help you fix your speed issues. While you may not be able to achieve a perfect score even after making revisions, you’ll still be much better off once you can get closer to 100/100.
Don’t Hide Content
It’s wise to tailor the experience people have on a mobile device to small screens, but avoid doing that by hiding content. Text or images that are hidden on mobile may not be seen by Google once the mobile-first index roles out. If Google can’t see that content, it won’t be searchable.
A better strategy is to rearrange the content on your pages so that it suits mobile. For example, if you want something to be seen first, have a developer use CSS styling to arrange content on the page as opposed to hiding something.
Implement AMP Pages
The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an open source project that allows developers to create lightning-fast mobile versions of web pages. These pages live on your site but are served over Google’s domain. When people click on the links in search, they load quickly.
At the time of this writing, AMP is not yet a ranking signal, but it does influence page speed. If Google can serve pages that load faster, it will. Implementing AMP can be a complicated process. Variables like how your website is built and how large it is can determine how much of a project it will be.
The more you can make your site mobile friendly for Google, the better off you’ll be. By taking these tips into consideration, you’ll be ready for future mobile-first changes.