Mobile-First Indexing Has Arrived and What You Need to Know

On March 5th, 2020, Google announced that it would be switching to mobile-first indexing for all websites starting September 2020. If you haven’t noticed, Google made more changes to their algorithm in 2019 than they had in the last ten years combined. This has a lot to do with the fact that mobile traffic has gone up by 222% in the last seven years, with mobile now being the primary way users access the internet. And when mobile usage first officially surpassed desktop in October 2016, Google began teasing site owners with a mobile-first indexing shift.

But while Google has been discussing using the mobile version of a website for indexing and ranking for a few years now, it wasn’t until March 2018 that the official Google announcement about its mobile-first indexing rollout was released.  

However, despite all the years that Google has spent experimenting on mobile-first and the gradual rollout, many are still confused about mobile-first indexing and how it impacts their mobile and desktop sites. Is it enough to have a mobile responsive or mobile friendly site? How does the mobile-first index impact mobile searches, search results, mobile pages, mobile SEO, and Google ranks?

To make sense of it all, you have to understand the distinction between mobile responsive design, mobile-friendly site, and what those mean for Google’s mobile-first indexing.

What is Mobile Responsive and Mobile-Friendly?

When you have a mobile responsive web design, it means your website automatically scales and adjusts its content, elements, layout, and proportions to be displayed on a mobile device. When your website is mobile responsive, mobile users can view your site with ease without working extra hard to read your content or navigate your site.

Mobile-friendly, on the other hand, means the website functions the same way regardless of the device. The site’s functionality remains the same, and only the scale changes.

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

By 2018, mobile use continued to dominate over desktop, with 52.2% of all internet website traffic coming from mobile. And in March 2018, Google officially announced that it was rolling out mobile-first indexing, saying:

“Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”

Google’s goal with mobile-first indexing is to enhance the user experience of the majority. Historically, Google evaluated the relevance of a page based on the site’s desktop version. Because there are now more Google searches conducted on mobile devices, the index has made the shift to mobile. To be clear, mobile-first indexing is not a separate index. 

With mobile-first indexing, the URL of the mobile-friendly version of your site is what Google will index and crawl. So, what happens if your site doesn’t have a mobile-friendly version? The problem with not having a separate mobile site is that Google will end up crawling and indexing your desktop URL. This will have a negative impact on your rankings and website traffic because mobile-first indexing means Google will primarily look for the mobile URL. This hurts your rankings because not having a mobile-friendly site tells Google that you can’t deliver the user with a great mobile experience.  

Has My Site Made the Move to Mobile-First Indexing?

If your site is part of the 70% that Google has already migrated to mobile-first indexing, you should have been alerted by a Google Search Console notification. In May 2019, Google announced that starting July 1st, 2019, mobile-first indexing would be the default state for all new websites. 

So, if your website was built July 1st and onwards, mobile-first indexing is enabled by default and you probably didn’t receive a notification. If the desktop and mobile version of your site is more than a year old and you haven’t received a notification, you may not have already made the move to the mobile index. To be sure, you can check your site’s URL Inspection Tool.

Optimizing for Mobile-First Indexing

In August 2019, Google’s John Mueller asked for website owners’ patience because all websites would ultimately be moved to mobile-first indexing. To date, only 30% of websites haven’t been switched over. With no way of knowing precisely when your site will transition from now until September 2020, the best thing to do is be prepared. Unless you had your website built in the last year and mobile-optimized for mobile-first indexing, your site is likely not ready.

The mobile-first indexing readiness of a site is determined by a number of factors, including text, images, videos, and links. Here are some mobile-first indexing best practices:  

1. Ensure Mobile and Desktop Version are Equivalent – This means that mobile content and desktop content are both high-quality. This includes images, videos, texts, and their formats. However, your mobile version should be cleaner and easier to navigate. By removing any of the extra bloat like photo galleries, the site will launch faster. Remember that optimizing your mobile site is all about speed.

2. Use the Same Structured Data – The same structured data markup should exist on both versions of your website. Adding any unnecessary and irrelevant structured data to content will only affect indexing.

3. Equal Quality Mega Data – Titles and meta descriptions across your desktop version and mobile site don’t need to be identical; however, the quality of the information they provide should be equivalent. After all, optimizing for mobile may require you to shorten titles to achieve optimal character counts. 

4. Limit the Use of Javascript – John Mueller warned that using Javascript excessively may prevent a website from being classified as mobile-first prepared. Mueller said, “JavaScript itself is not something that would block indexing, but depending on how you have them set up here, if you don’t have separate URLs, for example, then we can’t really crawl that even if we could process the JavaScript on those pages.” 

5. Optimize for Pagespeed – Make sure your site is optimized for mobility usability and loads in less than 4-5 seconds. 

6. Long-Scrolling Site – Ensure you have a nice long-scrolling site that provides lots of information that is outlined and formatted well. Break up large chunks of text with icons and sections. 

7. No Live Videos or Dynamic Movements – Live videos and dynamic movements like sliders or sliding testimonials can slow down the mobile version of your website. 

8. Clear, Distinct Buttons and Menu – Make sure your buttons are easy to see. Your menu should be big and bold, so users have no problem seeing what they’re clicking. 

9. Individual Elements and Evenly Space Icons – Don’t use screenshots of photos or certifications. Everything needs to be mapped out separately and individually with clear borders on the sides of the text. They should be 5 or 8 pixels, so the text doesn’t touch the sides of the mobile screen. 

10. Clickable Footer – Make sure you have a footer on your mobile sites that users can click and take them back to the top.

11. Contact Form – Your contact form should be easy to fill and not too big. 

12. Properly Placed Logos and Titles  – Logos and titles should be centered and use proper title tags; H1, H2, and H3. 

13. Text That Is Big Enough – Ensure that your mobile site’s text size is big enough for people to see and read. 

Conclusion 

Ensuring readiness for mobile-first indexing is crucial if you want to stay competitive. Because Google will ultimately move all sites to mobile-first indexing, Google will shift your site to mobile-first indexing, whether you’re prepared or not. If you’re unsure whether your site is and mobile-optimized for mobile-first indexing, let us take a look. Strong Digital’s Technical Website Fixes & Website Development Services are among the top in the industry. For the past 7 years, we have closely observed patterns in Google’s frequent algorithm updates, along with trends in the market. This has allowed us to develop a cutting edge, AI-driven process that can produce #1 page rankings within minutes. If you would like to learn more about website optimization and how to make sure your site is ready to compete, contact us today.

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