Those of us who build and work on the web were alerted in late 2016 that Google is pivoting in terms of how searches will be ranked. The move is called “mobile first indexing,” which means … what, exactly? In Google’s own words:
“Currently our crawling, indexing, and ranking systems typically look at the desktop version of a page’s content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is vastly different from the mobile version. Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”
In plain English, it means that mobile is taking precedence over desktops when it comes to how sites are indexed and how Google looks at ranking signals. Historically, Google indexed and ranked websites (mobile and non-mobile) based on the experience and the content of their desktop versions. Going forward, Google will now shift that to the content of the website’s mobile experience.
Though it is not yet clear how sites with poor mobile experiences will actually be impacted by this change, it is clear that mobile-ready websites will have an advantage. And this change is already taking place; as of this post, Techcrunch says “Google’s mobile-first search index has rolled out to a handful of sites.“
In this graphic, we can see an almost-decade-wide view of the worldwide mobile share of internet traffic:
In late 2016, Reuters published a report with this prediction for 2017: 75% of Internet use would come from mobile devices. That means more and more users are accessing the internet — i.e. your website — with a smartphone or tablet. More importantly, an increasing number of users also are migrating from desktop to mobile for their internet searches.
Bottom line: as owner or manager of a website, your highest priority is having a mobile-responsive web property and strategy.
HOW DO YOU MAKE CERTAIN YOUR WEBSITE IS READY?
There are some key attributes to prepare your website for proper ranking with the Google Mobile Index:
- There should be uniformity across mobile and desktop within these key areas:
- Your mobile and desktop views should mirror key content: text, images and video. All is not lost if you have a mobile version with a different URL — i.e. m.mywebsite.com vs mywebsite.com — if the content is the same site-wide, all will be indexed on mobile.
- Metadata — that is, titles and description — should be present and uniform across all versions.
- Ensure the server host has the capacity to handle an increased crawl rate from Smartphone Googlebot.
In the example below, three versions of the Parthenon Publishing website are shown: desktop, tablet and mobile. Notice how key elements are represented across different device widths.
OTHER MOBILE-FIRST CONSIDERATIONS
There’s more to mobile than turning up higher in search hits, however. Setting SEO ranking aside, let’s move over from statistics, charts and graphs to talk in human terms about why your website should be accessible on mobile.
Easy access to information:
A mobile-friendly site will become a preferred site. Say you and your friends are leaving a concert and are looking for a quick bite to eat. You pull up two restaurant websites on your phone, one of which doesn’t load in a mobile-friendly fashion. If you’re like me (and other people who lack patience), it’s quickly abandoned for a website where a menu, hours and other pertinent information can be easily accessed. A recent example from a few months ago: I traveled to Chicago for the first time. In preparation, I searched for the airport map and a less-than-perfect web experience awaited me. Had I been in the actual airport trying to navigate my way around, I would have been more frustrated with the airport’s online map than I was while surfing the web, via my phone, from my sofa.
Considerations regarding valuable digital real estate:
Menus on mobile and desktop views of websites need to behave differently. Mobile menus should collapse simply, because when they are actively engaged they take up valuable real estate that should be utilized to grab the viewer’s attention — that limited space is for what the website is about and/or what is being sold. For example: a menu should not impede the call to action from being viewed immediately. Also, if a desktop type of menu is in play, often the expanse of menu items is so small that viewers must zoom in to read the words.
Reach a more diverse audience:
According to the Pew Research Center, minorities – Hispanics and African Americans – use mobile devices exclusively more often than Caucasians to access the Internet.
If your website isn’t mobile-friendly and mobile-indexed, you’re leaving behind a very large swath of unreached users.
All in all, a website has a great content plan and user experience firmly in place and is prepared for the Google mobile index if two factors are implemented:
- The website can be found — the result of a properly built, mobile-indexed website
- The website is human-friendly — an experience provided by a well-planned mobile user experience