Mobile-First Indexing from Google

Mobile has revolutionized the entirety of how people peruse the online world, search for consumer goods and contents, engage with social media, and much more. Mobile has been a dominating trend since 2016, when mobile traffic outdistanced desktop traffic for the first time. A few months back saw Google announce that their search engine indexing would be reoriented to be mobile-first. Since then testing has been underway, and now we have their mobile-first indexing rollout. Over the next few years we can expect to see desktop websites being pushed back in the rankings, putting mobile and responsive sites first.

As a top Canadian web hosting provider, there is great relevance to all of this for both us and our clients. Some of you may have less of an understanding of what mobile-first indexing actually is, so let’s spend a short period of time discussing it here today.

Defining Mobile- First Indexing

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that most people use mobile devices when visiting the mobile versions of websites. When the site’s indexing system follows the desktop version of a site first for making assessments about both the quality and relevance of a page in response to that user’s query, a diminished user experience can be the result.

Most problematic in this scenario is the possibility that the mobile user will abandon the platform, and that happens quite frequently. This new mobile-first index is how Google will attempt to discover, crawl, and understand web pages and documents for indexing and ranking them – from a mobile-first perspective.

So, from here on out Google will primarily crawl and first index the mobile-friendly version of your website with the smartphone agent, rather than indexing the desktop version as it would have previously. However, it’s important to understand that Google will continue to show the URL that is the most appropriate to users – desktop or mobile URL – in the returned search results. So yes, there’s no need to be overly concerned that your rankings and traffic will disappear overnight.

But be very clear, this change in Google’s indexing priorities means you have to make mobile SEO a top priority.

Conduct a Mobile-friendly Test

Many of you will have already followed up on the advice that you need to have a ‘mobile-friendly’ website where the same design, structure, and content are adjusted dynamically in response to different screen sizes and devices. If so, you won’t be required to make any fundamental changes to your site. Fortunately, one of the easiest ways to check whether your site is mobile-friendly is by working with Google’s Mobile-Friendly test tool.

Are my Mobile Pages Visible to Google?

The Fetch and Render tool in the Google Search Console is great for looking at your site’s mobile-version preview after the fetch and render is complete. The rendered results will resemble what Google can see and index in response to what’s offered by your mobile site.

There is a possibility that your mobile results may not have been indexed correctly. If you have dynamic serving or different URLs for your desktop and mobile website, that will almost certainly be the case. You’ll then have to add a sitemap to your mobile site and also tag all your mobile URLs with canonical and alternate tags, before submitting it through the Google Search Console. It’s also recommended to add it to your robot.txt file, and then ensure you follow the best practices below to ready the content for mobile-first indexing:

  • The same content found on your your desktop site – text, images (with alt-attributes), and videos, all in in indexable formats – must be featured on the mobile version as well.
  • Structured data must be updated on both versions of your site.
  • Metadata, titles and meta descriptions should be present on both versions.
  • Employ search consoleto verify both versions of your site, and most particularly checking Mobile Usability to dig up any mobile usability issues that might be altering your site’s performance.
  • Check your hreflang links between mobile and desktop URLs, but do each of them separately. Mobile URLs’ hreflang should point to mobile URLs, while the desktop URL hreflang should do the same for desktop URLs.

In addition, your servers need to have sufficient capacity to a handle any potential increase in the crawl rate for the mobile version of your site, which of course is very likely!

You should also have the correct rel=canonical and rel=alternate link elements established between your mobile and desktop versions.

Next, you should run a page speed test to identify issues with the load time of any one of your pages. Free page speed tests are pretty easy to find online with a quick search. Being able to maintain a competitive speed is a must today if you aim to reduce bounce rates – and who doesn’t? If the speed of your site continues to lag, you might also want to consider implementing Google AMP for your blog and website pages. We’ve found this to be effective ourselves.

The time is definitely now to take a mobile-first approach with your entire site. It essentially means putting in the required time to fine tune everything; from structure to responsive design to speed, architecture, and all the way to the entire user experience that you’re able to offer to the mobile user. Who, more than likely, is making up ever more of the traffic to your website.

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