How often do you use your smartphone? For the majority of us in North America the answer would be every day. We’re on it for work, entertainment, socializing—we even use our phones to track our meals and health. There isn’t much a phone can’t do in this day and age and search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing are catering to mobile devices more and more.
Because of this, it’s important that business owners do the same. While creating mobile-friendly websites was simply a suggestion a few years ago, it has now become a necessity, and that need for mobile is going to continue to grow.
Mobile-first is not a new concept by any means. It’s been talked about quite a bit by SEOs and business owners since 2015. However, a recent tweet made February 2018 from the webmaster conference PubCon informed the world that Google plans to move a lot more sites to mobile-first within a month and a half!
For those of you who have been slow to get into the game, the time is now.
Start at the Beginning
Anyone in the SEO world knows that mobile-first has been on the horizon for a long time. Some noteworthy changes to the Google algorithm favoring mobile include:
- Mobile update, aka “Mobilegeddon,” on April 22nd, 2015 where mobile rankings began to differ for mobile-friendly sites.
- Mobile-friendly 2.0 on May 12th, 2016 featuring another ranking signal boost to benefit mobile-friendly sites.
- Mobile penalty on January 10th, 2017 punishing aggressive pop-ups that could damage the mobile experience.
But even in between these specific updates, there’s been a general air of mobile-friendliness wafting around the Internet for a long time as smartphones grow and grow in popularity.
2016 marked the year that mobile Internet usage surpassed desktop usage.
Counting statistics from 2009-2016, recorded numbers started with mobile and tablet usage at 0%, consistently growing over the years to match up at the beginning of 2016 and begin to head in a different direction by the end of the year. And, when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
Do we regularly see ads about the coolest laptops and desktops? Sometimes, especially if we’re talking about Apple, but nothing near the hype of the latest smartphone, of which new ones are released seemingly on a monthly basis. We have our phones on us all the time, and let’s face it: we’re addicted.
The time for mobile-first truly is here, so what does that mean for the business owner, website manager, and SEO tech? Let’s find out.
What is the Mobile-First Index?
When you hear talk about switching over to mobile-first, what exactly is that going to do for your website? Will it start looking strange when you access it on your desktop or laptop? Will you need to suddenly re-write all your content and do entirely new keyword research? There are a lot of questions, especially for those who haven’t been following the evolution of mobile-first carefully. But don’t worry, we’re here to answer these questions.
Up until now, Google searches have been both mobile and desktop, but their index has been desktop-only. This means that when Google evaluates a page’s ranking, it looks at what desktop users are searching for. With a mobile change, Google will now be looking at content, links, and other data, on the mobile version of your website.
The question here becomes: what if I don’t have a mobile site? While we recommend getting one quickly (it can be done easily by using a company like LinkNow Media!) you can still count on Google to use the desktop version of your website to rank for now. But, you will be missing out on mobile-friendly ranking boosts.
By now, you can tell that the mobile-first index will not apply to the way your website looks, but rather how it works behind the scenes. When it comes to keywords, there is a difference between desktop and mobile searching.
In fact, of nearly 25 million keywords 79% of listings rank differently on mobile than on desktop. On top of this, 35% of top-ranking URLs differ from desktop to mobile as well.
A great example of how the content of a website should be changed from desktop to mobile, is in call to action. When you’re searching for a business on your computer, you’re going to look for a contact form or email address to get in touch. But, when you’re on your smartphone you’re going to prefer the option of a “call” button.
We know what you’re all thinking: Do I really have to re-write my content, and create more landing pages just to cater to these new mobile-first keywords? Well, you can—or, you can use strategy to figure out what pages are most used by mobile users and which are most used by desktop. You don’t have to jump in with both feet right from the start, but you can begin to incorporate mobile-friendly content onto shopping and contact pages.
The best way to determine which pages are pulling in mobile traffic and which are pulling in desktop traffic for your unique website is to track everything. You should already be interested in finding out where your traffic is coming from, who is engaging, and how many conversions each source is bringing you. But now you can use this information to increase your hits even further.
By working with a company like LinkNow Media, you’ll be ensuring that your website is put into the capable hands of our SEO strategists, who are up to date on all the latest in mobile-first indexing.
However, if you want a little tip to start you off creating some easily accessible mobile content of your own, try working with tables of content. Splitting up information so it’s to-the-point, easy-to-read, and easy-to-reach, will result in very happy clients.
What if my Mobile Site is New?
If you’ve just started working on your mobile-friendly website and it doesn’t have much in the way of content, this is the time to finish that page up. While website owners with a site formatted only for desktop will find that Google still crawls their desktop site, if you have launched a mobile friendly site it will crawl that page, content or not.
Keep in mind that Google will be looking for mobile, not volume of content. If your mobile site isn’t completely ready to go, maybe hold off on launching it until it is.
Boost Your Rankings
For many, the change to a mobile-first indexing system may seem like a lot of unnecessary trouble and frustration. Change can be difficult, especially when you’ve spent months or maybe even years researching and building the perfect website, and filling it with quality content. But there’s something you can look forward to as mobile-first becomes more and more prevalent: for those who are on top of things, they’ll experience a boost to their ranking.
As more websites fall behind with out-of-date content and desktop-only design, mobile-friendly websites are going to shoot to the top of the local search.
If you’re confused and wondering what this means, considering Google already has a mobile-friendly ranking boost, it goes a little something like this:
With a desktop-first ranking system, you get your first round of ranking through your desktop results. Then, if you have a mobile-optimized site, you get a boost because of that. Now, you’ll get your first ranking through mobile, and then an additional mobile boost, making your rankings even higher!
What Happens to Desktop Ranking?
For those wondering what the end-game is in all of this, it’s simple. In the end, there will only be one index, based on mobile content, which will be applied to both desktop and mobile websites. If you were hoping that we’d get back to desktop ranking eventually, it’s just not going to happen.
For the time being, we have the luxury of two indexes. The desktop-first index and the mobile-first index. Up until now only a small group of browsers have been getting their results from the mobile-first index. But that’s all about to change.
So, while there are some die-hard desktop fans out there calling for separate indexes over the next years, you’re out of luck. The main characteristic about computers and technology is that they are constantly changing. It’s out with the old and in with the new from month to month, and even day to day. But by doing your research or working with an experienced web development company, you’ll be just fine.
Preparing Your Website for Mobile First
Here we are, at the section you’ve all been waiting for: how do you prepare your website for the mobile-first index? Unless you have a responsive website or a dynamic serving site which are already ready to go, there are a few different steps to take.
- Make sure your website really is optimized for mobile. Just because you can look at your website on a phone and it’s generally readable doesn’t mean it’s optimized. There are applications such as Google’s own mobile-friendly test that you can use to check, and if it comes back negative, you’ll need to make some changes.
- Ensure that your site is Googlebot friendly. The Googlebot is the tool that will be crawling your pages to collect information and rank you. If your site isn’t readable by Googlebot—you’re not ranking. There are tools to test this as well, such as Google’s robots.txt tester.
- Speed up your site. Mobile speed is especially important to your users who are looking for information fast. In fact, 53% of your mobile users will leave if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Best of all, this is a double whammy as a faster site will rank higher too.
- Tweak your content by removing excessive popups, adding tables of contents, segmenting your page into smaller sections, and using tabs, filters, and expandable content. A mobile site is more complicated in design, with the goal of a simpler user experience.
And as always, keep up to date with your landing pages and link building. The same rules for SEO apply to a mobile site even if mobile-specific keywords and organization require a bit of a mental adjustment.
Enter a New Era
The world is changing faster and faster these days. Technology is growing at an alarming rate and companies like Google are right at the helm of this growth. Web development and SEO can be complicated to keep up with, but when you get it right it can bring you all the success in the world.
Not everyone likes change, but one thing we can always keep in mind that we’ve been through hundreds of changes already and have come out on the other side better than ever.
The steps that large search engines like Google are taking to perfect their searching system and the way websites are managed online is all to the benefit of the consumer. When more of your browsers are using mobile devices, it’s important to cater to those browsers.
By preparing your website for mobile-first indexing now you’ll be ahead of the curve. And, if it’s all too complicated, you can always rely on tried-and-true web development companies like LinkNow Media to take charge and get you ranking higher than ever before! The future is now—are you coming with us?