It’s no secret that Google is the most popular search engine in the world. According to Net Market Share, Google owns approximately 82% of the global search engine market share, garnering an impressive 62,820 searches per second*.
It also comes as no surprise that these days, we perform the majority of online activity on our mobile devices. Our pocket sized computers enable us to shop online, watch our favourite TV shows, communicate with friends across the world, and of course, research just about anything. In fact, in recent years, the mobile has surpassed desktop in terms of the device used for searching queries online.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Google and very shortly it plans on catering to the mobile user by implementing a mobile first index. And if this all sounds familiar, it’s because it isn’t the first time Google has switched its focus to mobile. In 2015, it released a new mobile friendly ranking algorithm. Search marketers expected big things from the change and felt it would be a real game changer in terms of SEO. Alas, the results were not quite as dramatic as they had hoped for and the release is now mockingly referred to as Mobilegeddon.
But I digress. We’re not here to talk about the past. We’re here to look to the future. So what exactly is Google’s mobile-first index, how will it impact your website’s performance and how can you prepare for its imminent arrival?
What is Google’s Mobile-First Index?
At present when you ‘Google’ something, the search results are ranked according to what Google deems to be most useful and relevant. How do they determine this? They use a complex algorithm which takes into account a number of factors, which we simply don’t have time to cover today. But what we do want to touch upon is the indexing.
The Google Search index is essentially where web pages are organised. Currently, Google’s crawlers look at the desktop version of your website and then base how the mobile version of your site will rank accordingly. That’s because historically, most people used desktop computers to search online. However, now that over 50% of search queries come from mobile devices, Google has decided to reverse its index to mobile-first.
How does it affect my website?
The change to a mobile first-index basically means that Google will start looking at the mobile version of a web page’s content to evaluate its relevance to the user. So if the desktop and mobile version of your website share the same content, happy days; your website will continue to rank as it currently does as the mobile-first index will detect no difference.
However, if the mobile version of your website is inferior to the desktop version, meaning the primary content is not captured on your mobile site, then your website ranking will most likely suffer.
Ironically, if you’re reading this as a business owner whose company does not have a mobile site, then the switch may have zero impact on you at all. Mobile-first index is not the same as mobile-only index. If Google can’t take your non-existent mobile site into consideration, they’ll rank your website based on desktop experiences alone. So you may actually fare better than a company who has an incomplete mobile site.
How do I prepare for the mobile-first index?
Google has assured us that there’s no need to panic and a major change in rankings isn’t anticipated. And while this may be true, it’s always wise to err on the side of caution. Also, let’s remember that it’s 2017. If your website isn’t mobile friendly, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your customers.
1. Go responsive
Preparing for mobile first-indexing starts with comparing the content on the desktop version of your website to that on the mobile version. If the mobile version has much less content, you have two options.
The first, and recommended option, is to redevelop your website so it is responsive in design. Having a dynamic serving website will mean that the webpages will adjust to fit the size of the device they are being viewed on and that content is equivalent across mobile and desktop. Google therefore will not index your mobile site any differently to it does your existing desktop site.
2. Make your mobile content primary
The second option is to make sure your primary content is available on your mobile website. This approach could potentially be quite messy and time consuming though. It also means you constantly have to update the two sites separately.
3. Optimise your mobile site
If you already have a responsive site then according to Google, you’re off the hook. Yet you may want to use this as an opportunity to review your website and question why it isn’t performing as well as you want it to. How often is your content being updated? Is it relevant to the user? Are you adding backlinks? Are you using keywords? Is the site user friendly and easy to navigate?
Make sure you use Google Search Console to add and verify the mobile version of your website and remember to regularly test the speed at which your pages load. The Google PageSpeed insights tool will tell you how slow your site is performing on both mobile and desktop and offer tips for fixing it.
4. Make the move to mobile
To reiterate my earlier point, if you only have a desktop website, then Google will continue to index your desktop site just fine, regardless of whether your website users are on desktop or mobile. However, you might want to take this impending change as a sign that it’s time to make the move to mobile.
Google has yet to announce an official launch date for its mobile-first indexing but it’s largely predicted that the switch will occur during the first quarter of 2018. What we are certain of however is that SEO is a constantly evolving industry and mobile is now our dominant device. Despite Google’s claims that the switch will have little impact on site rankings, it may only be a matter of time before another mobile centric algorithm is released.
In the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”.
Did you know all of the websites we create are responsive in design? If you’d like to make your site responsive ahead of Google’s mobile-first indexing implementation, get in touch today so we can discuss your requirements and talk you through our process.
* This is the figure obtained from Internet Live Stats at the time of writing.