Get in Touch

3 simple steps to prepare for Google’s Mobile First Index … exclusive

by on October 6, 2018 in Digital Marketing, Latest News, Lead Article, Mobile Marketing, Mobile/Tablet, News you can use, Nuggets

3 simple steps to prepare for Google’s Mobile First Index … exclusive

Article written by Alex of Climbing Trees 

We all knew the day was coming. For quite some time now, Google has been discussing how influential mobile search has become.

First came the revelation back in 2015 that mobile search volume was greater than desktop. The elder-statesmen (desktop) was dethroned, and Google was not just going to sit idly by.

Not too long afterwards came the announcement of a new mobile-first index. The official release was never given a specific date, merely referred to as the beginning of experiments that will eventually lead to a new index.

Well, as we all know, the day has come. On March 26th, 2018 Google announced the rollout of a mobile-first index on some sites, a process that will eventually encompass all the sites in their database.

Even if it has not been applied to your client sites yet, the impact of mobile search trends has already been felt by us all. In an industry that is known for rapid micro-transformations on the regular, the shift to mobile over desktop represents a macro-shift that, frankly, a lot of people have not caught up with.

What does the mobile-first index mean?

Just to recap, the mobile-first index means the following things:

  • Google will use the mobile version of your sites content for all indexing and ranking. The desktop version should be some approximate version of the mobile version – not the other way round.
  • There is still only going to be one index. Google is just switching the primary focus of analysis within their index rather than creating a totally new/seperate index only for mobile.
  • If your site has dynamic serving, Google will still prioritize the mobile version for indexing. So you may as well make your mobile site as thorough as your desktop version because searchers and the search engine will be happier.
  • If your site uses Responsive Web Design, you may not have to change much at all.

You might be thinking “phew! I don’t have as much work to do in getting this site ready for mobile!” But while these changes might not require a complete site redesign, they definitely call for some specific improvements to the mobile version of a site. Going ahead with these five changes should be enough to weather the (frankly) unpredictable growing pains of the mobile era:

  1. Use Responsive Web Design if possible.

There are three techniques for displaying mobile content:

  • Responsive Web Design
  • Dynamic Serving
  • Separate URLs

Of the three techniques, responsive web design is your best bet. It is both the easiest to maintain and the platform recommended by Google because it offers the most cohesive user experience across all devices.

One of the benefits to RWD is that you only need to maintain one version of your site, rather than two. The same HTML code for a URL is shared across any device, with the additional design benefit of images and content rendering differently based on the size of the platform. Due to the streamlined nature of RWD, the amount of technical maintenance and design optimization is quite manageable for those of us who are not experts in HTML.

In my opinion, these benefits make it more appealing than dynamic serving. Dynamic serving also uses the same URL across devices, but it generates a different HTML code for each device type. The unique HTML code is based off what the search engine knows about the searcher. I mostly vote for RWD over dynamic serving because Google has come out and said it is their recommended version. If you already have a dynamic serving setup and want to keep it that way, Google recommends keeping the same data across mobile and desktop, including structured data and meta descriptions.

Removing legacy code

This is, of course, more work for potentially no pay-off (is your mobile site-speed going to be so much faster that your SEO drastically improves? Probably not). The option of removing legacy code is a good one because it shortens mobile load time – but it really only makes sense for companies with old websites and tons of code.

As far as using separate URLs are concerned, I personally have no experience with it. Based on my research though, it seems like more hassle than it’s worth.

This leads me to my last point about mobile site hosting. Don’t create an m.subdomain for your mobile site unless you are a major corporation! Subdomains and subdirectories have a place in mobile SEO, but for a vast majority of small and medium sized businesses offering a small range of services to a single market, I recommend sticking with Responsive Web Design and avoiding hours of unnecessary maintenance work and the potential technical and cyber security issues that come with subdomains and subdirectories.

  1. Limit the amount of content on the site (both front and back-end).

Page speed/load times are going to drive some SEO’s crazy. I know many are losing sleep over the thousands of uncompressed images and files on a site that make it slow to load. On mobile, page load time has been promoted from a secondary concern to a primary concern. Google now considers page speed a ranking signal, and research shows that mobile searchers will skip over a site if it does not load within 3 seconds. The pressure is on to keep a site as lean as possible so that it loads as fast as possible.

Here are a couple suggestions for keeping a site lean and fast:

  • Remove unused images or text. A lot of sites have too much unused content in the back-end that is just picking up dust and slowing things down. I’m talking about headshots, logos, banners, landing page images, and product pages/content that is not published. Start by removing all unnecessary content and measure the difference.
  • Use PageSpeed Insights to measure mobile performance. Google wants to help us make mobile-friendly sites, so they offered up this free testing tool. It gives you an idea of which pages are slower, and why.
  • Make customer-facing images smaller. The images that you do keep on your site should be compressed. What you might notice from running a PageSpeed test is that the “above the fold” image takes too long to load. This means that your homepage has too much HTML code and should be reduced in order to speed up load time. The test will also reveal which images should be compressed. Follow up on these suggestions and load time should get faster!

Note: if your note seeing and Page Speed for the URL in question, you will want to performa “synthetic performance audit” with Lighthouse in Chrome Dev Tools to get an estimate.

  1. Match searcher intent by optimizing for local search.

What is the first thing you think about when you think about a mobile searcher? I think about local search trends. People have their phones with them at all hours of the day, and oftentimes when they perform a search it is for something in their local vicinity.

Geo-targeting is already a large part of paid search campaigns, and it will only become more influential as the mobile era develops. When it comes to organic search, mobile trends are making local SEO shine through.

Whether it’s optimizing for Google My Business, changing title and meta-descriptions for local relevance, or building links with local directories and bloggers, the ecosystem of local search has only become more varied in the mobile era. In order to slide up the mobile SERP, digital marketers should be doubling down on these location-based outreach strategies.

The Mobile Era is Here to Stay

Google has officially launched the mobile-first index, whether you were prepared for it or not. Algorithm updates have been made to prioritize mobile optimization over desktop, but in an industry with so many moving parts it is not uncommon for mobile best-practices to get lost in the shuffle. At   include mobile optimization and we are seeing great results.

You can thrive in the mobile era – as long as you account for these fundamental features of your digital strategy.

 

Print article