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Google's Mobile-First Indexing: What to Know & Actions to Take

October 05, 2018 By Hendrik-Jan Francke

Google's Mobile-First Indexing: What to Know & Actions to Take

You might have gotten a notification from your Google Search Console recently that indicated:

“Mobile-first indexing enabled for www.yourwebsite.com.”

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This mobile-first update is important because Google is signaling that they are prioritizing mobile users, and your business should too (that is, if you want your website to show up in search!)

Google is rolling mobile-first indexing out to all sites it determines meet best practices for a mobile-first index. (Sidenote: your site could get this approval even if it’s not truly mobile-friendly. This has happened to at least 1 client of ours).

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

Mobile-first indexing means that the Googlebot will now use the mobile version of your site for indexing and ranking, to better help users find what they're looking for.

This does not mean Big-G won’t crawl and index your desktop site, it just means they are going to crawl and index the mobile version or your site first.

Why?

Google is Prioritizing Mobile-First Because Users are Prioritizing Mobile

Nearly 50% of B2B searches and  60% of B2C searches are carried out on a mobile device.

It makes sense. Even when we’re at work or on our desktop, our smartphones are often within arm’s reach.

Studies show users switch fluidly between multiple devices throughout the day (desktop at work, phone during lunch, back to desktop). And now, trends are showing that more people are using their smartphones for search more consistently throughout the day than their desktop.

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Smartphones have the highest percentage of daily users throughout the day.

Mobile Devices Change the Way We Search

Google not only knows we’re using our phones more often to search, they know how our search behaviors are changing because of it.

For example, the G-man can tell us that on mobile devices…

(P.S. Google is responsible for 84% of mobile search traffic, so yeah, they know us pretty well.)

So Google is Changing How it Ranks Sites

Mobile-first indexing is just another step Google is taking to respond to our mobile proclivities. Featured snippets, carousels, and other search features are meant to present better data that answers our most pressing questions.

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For your business website to rank well, you need to optimize your site and content for mobile search.

Step 1: 

Make Sure Your Website is Mobile-Friendly

Is your web page mobile-friendly? Take Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to find out.

(Optimizing for mobile-first means more than just being technically mobile-friendly, but we’ll get to that in a bit.)

If your site is mobile-friendly, how is it rendered?

Responsive Design

Good news, you don’t have to take immediate action.

Responsive design means your content is the same on both desktop and mobile sites, just reorganized to fit the small screen. This is good because Google has lots of content to index.

You can still take steps to improve your site for mobile-first indexing. Skip to Step Two:

Separate Mobile Site

A separate mobile site, like m.domain.com, has the disadvantage of having limited content. Limited content isn’t bad, but it requires businesses to be more strategic with the mobile site SEO.

You can follow the steps in this article to optimize your separate mobile site.

If your site is not mobile-friendly

It’s time to get with the times, my friend.

We get it, website redesigns can seem like a major undertaking (though they don’t have to be if you use this approach). If a redesign project has been sitting on the backburner, don’t panic.

Mobile-first indexing means mobile comes first, not mobile only. Google is still going to index your desktop site. If you have good content, it will still rank. But over time, your rankings might fall in favor of mobile-friendly sites.

Look at analytics to determine the percentage of mobile visits

If you need to light a fire under you, check your analytics to see exactly how much traffic is coming from mobile.

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To check mobile usage, navigate to "Audience" then "Mobile". It will show you the amount of desktop, mobile, and tablet users in the time period.

We checked out our clients (most of whom already have mobile-friendly sites), and mobile traffic varies by industry.

  • B2B website range from 15%-25% mobile traffic
    • B2B websites across industries have greater share of desktop traffic.
  • B2C websites generate 44%+ mobile traffic
    • Mobile usage is climbing in B2C businesses!
  • Not-for-profit websites range from 30%-45% mobile traffic

Step 2: 

Optimize Site & Content for Mobile Users

Truly-optimizing for mobile-first it means you need to prioritize how your content loads and appears on mobile devices if you want your site to rank well.

We think there are 3 areas where you can prioritize site improvements for mobile-first indexing.

Local Optimization

If you’re a B2B or B2C company serving a local market, you want to show up first when a mobile user makes a “near me” search. 

Local landing pages are one effective and budget-friendly on-site local SEO strategy. Separate from your website, also make sure your Google My Business listing is complete and up to date.

Write Better Content for Mobile and Long-Tail Keyword Optimization

Surprisingly, people use longer phrases when searching on mobile. Voice search influences this long-tail keyword trend as well.

Strategically formatting your content to incorporate long-tail keywords and other phrases can help your site win more featured snippets and appear higher in search results. 

The higher your rank, the more traffic your site will generate.

Site Speed Optimization

Mobile searches are up because we like things now—we don’t want to wait to search when we get to our desktop. In that same vein, I don’t want to wait for your slow website to load. 

Like we mentioned before, more than half of users will abandon a slow loading page. 

Costs to optimize your site speed can vary. It depends on your site’s CMS, your hosting provider, your site code, etc. A good place to start is to check your Google Page Speed score to see how much work is ahead.

Adopting Mobile-First Is a Marketing Must

It’s a mobile-driven world. Your website, content, and marketing materials should accommodate for it.

The bottom line is, the better you think like your users, the better you answer their questions in their language, the better you optimize content for their viewing screen, the better you can build trust between them and your business.

And more trust generates more revenue.

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