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Mobile-First Indexing: What you need to know

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A massive change is coming to Google and it’s ranking algorithm. Orientated around mobile search, this update is to focus on the ranking of mobile friendly websites.

Over the past 5 to 6 months, the search industry and been discussing what are the possible outcomes of this update and what it means for non-responsive websites. This will quickly become another large ranking factor when it comes to SEO of websites. A website will need to be able to be viewed on a mobile device, but there are many other factors that are involved.

The mobile-first index is to aim at making mobile-friendly sites rank higher. This is to aid viewers that are using mobile devices to browse the internet. Google have already stated many years ago that there are more people doing searches on mobile devices than there are on desktops. This is why they are now going to be looking at a websites responsiveness to being used on a mobile device.

This does not mean that only making your site responsive will work and keep your site ranking. There are many different factors that will be assessed to give Google an idea on how your site performs on a mobile device. This includes aspects such as page speed and the content on the website. If there is content that then becomes hidden from the viewer when using a mobile device; Google will see that negatively.

If you are worried about what can happen to your site after the update, this article will give you a quick run through of everything that we currently know.

Mobile-First Index: What is it?

As we have already stated, this update is going to change how sites are ranked. There will be many more factors in place if you want to get your site ranking. Currently, Google looks at the desktop site first and will then rank the mobile site using that information. The mobile-first index however is going to reverse this process. Google will be looking at the mobile version of the site and then from that will rank the desktop site. This could be devastating for sites that are still yet to update their site to make it responsive.

When will the update be released?

The update is due to start in March 2018 and Google will start using the mobile first index sometime in July 2018. This means that you do not have long to update your site if you haven’t done so already. If your target market is commonly viewing your site on mobile devices (you can get this information from Google Analytics), you will lose a lot of traffic once this update hits.

It is best if you get ahead and get a new website developed by an external company or have an internal specialist create on that will work well on mobile sites. If you stay behind, expect for Google to drop your sites rankings over time while other sites gain more influence.

Why are Google pushing this update?

Many times in the past have Google been looking at improving mobile search. This is by making it more user friendly, but also making sure the right and helpful sites come up. Google also announced almost two years ago that more searches were being completed on mobile devices than desktops.

Since more searches are being done on mobile devices, Google are looking at making sure that the people that are inputting these searches are being given sites that are friendly and relevant. The experience a viewer has when having a look at a website on a mobile device is key. Google want to make sure that this experience is as good as it can be.

There are different websites out there that use different methods to get their site visible on mobile devices. However, Google is going to be normalising this so that each site must conform to certain regulations. Some companies hide or thin out the content on the website when on mobile devices. This happens when mobile sites have separate URLs or can happen when dynamic serving is used.

Separate URLs

Separate URLs are when there are two versions of the site. One to appear when looking at the site on a desktop and the other on mobile. An example of this can be seen if the URL is ‘www.example.co.uk’ for desktops, but is ‘m.example.co.uk’ on mobile devices. Information can get thinned out of removed from this process if redirects are not put in place correctly.

If someone was to do a search on a mobile device and the About Us page of a website was listed. This page, once clicked on, should direct the user to the same page on the mobile site. Companies have made the mistake of putting gin the wrong redirect or purposefully leading the user elsewhere. This is not favoured by Google.

Dynamic Serving

This is the complete opposite to using separate URLs. Dynamic serving uses the same URL to serve different code to each device that is requesting it. This acts as a method of altering the HTML for mobile users. The mobile content is “hidden” when the site is crawled using a desktop user agent. This is why the server will send a request to Googlebot that when it crawls the site for mobile devices, it can find the mobile content.

This is where content can get thinned out. Content that is visible on the website for desktop users might be removed or “hidden” when looking at the same site on a mobile device. This is quite common on e-commerce sites where pieces of text or links are removed from the mobile version of the site.

Is your site under threat of being dropped?

If you are running a website that has a lot of traffic coming into it, you will need to check your website to ensure it doesn’t get dropped after this update. There are different factors that could affect the ranking of your site, ranging from content and links to page speed.

Content

The first thing that you should check is the content that appears on the mobile version of your site. Minimise your browser or go on your site on a mobile device and have a look yourself. Then you can check if the content from the desktop version of your site is visible/ accessible. There needs to be a consistent experience on any platform your site is viewed on.

You do not want to be hiding or removing content from one platform and not have it on another. Both desktop and mobile versions of the site should have the same content throughout to provide the best experience. If there is content you want to remove from a page on your mobile site, try and keep it, but tailor it so that it is the same for both the desktop and mobile version of the site. All content should be accessible, no matter where or how the site is accessed.

However, with keeping the content consistent throughout the mobile and desktop versions of the site; you must be careful not to ruin the user experience. Large paragraphs of text will not look good on a mobile device and will ruin the user experience. There are however ways around this. Splitting up paragraphs for mobile devices is one of the many ways. Others involve moving the content lower down on the page (especially if it is an e-commerce site so the products don’t get pushed down) or hiding the content with a ‘read more’ button.

Involved within the content; headings (h1s, h2s, h3s etc.) and titles should not be missing either. They will need to be set as and where you want them. They cannot be too big, but stand out and make sure that they are readable.

Page Speed

When the new update goes live, page speed will be an essential part of a sites ranking. Google already uses page speed as a key point when ranking a website. However, this update will make it a much more key part of sites rankings. The speed of a site determines its usability; especially on mobile.

The speed of a site can affect anyone that wishes to view your website on the move. If your site takes a long time to load, it can cause it to either time out or just push prospects away. Unless if a mobile device is connected to Wi-Fi, often enough loading a website that has a long loading time can be a painful experience. This both reduces the usability of the site and ruins the experience. Google are going to be prioritising this factor much more with this update.

If you are converted about your own site and its load time, have a look at Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool. There are also many online website speed tools available so use the one of your choice. These will determine if there are any issues with your site and its loading time. If anything is spotted, you will need to get it fixed before this update hits.

For the best load times, you should be looking at seeing if your site loads within 3-4 seconds. If it doesn’t then there might be some issues that could be resolved. Using different tools to discover these issues will aid in improving your sites usability. From image sizes to the amount of effects or on-page JavaScript that must be loaded; there are a variety of areas that can affect the loading time.

Internal Linking/ Site Structure

Internal links and the sites structure is very important for mobile sites. No matter how you have your site set up to appear on mobile platforms. Be it dynamic serving or separate URLs; the internal links need to still be in there. These provide viewers easy ways to navigate through the site. If these are removed, it can make navigating the site much harder. The user experience will then be worsened from this.

A variety of aspects of a website get involved when it comes to a site ranking. Internal linking is one of them. If Google was to crawl the mobile site, it will run into issues if the linking is different from the desktop site. The internal links need to be the same on both platforms. This means that the quality of your links will be kept at a good level. If there are missing links on the mobile version that are on the desktop, Google can give your site a poor link quality which can then have a major effect on your websites rankings.

Structured Data

Structured data is what gives Google context with what is on your site. It is all good to have a lot of content on your site, but if there is no context; the content is worthless. Google and other search engines use structured data to collect together the information it needs for snippets. These can then be used when showing your website in the search results. Using structured data enables google to get the information it thinks is relevant to someone’s search and then display it; raising click through rate.

This data is often removed on mobile sites. This can no longer be the case. Google are making it so that mobile sites have all the structured data that is on the desktop. This is because they will be looking at the mobile site first. If they cannot find the structured data on the mobile site, it already puts you in a bad spot. This will further effect your sites rankings. Google offers a tool that enables you to check your sites mobile and desktops structured data.

The Conclusion

There are many websites out there that are not responsive; don’t contain the same information on both platforms and have long load times. These kinds of sites will be greatly affected by the mobile-first index update. To avoid losing traffic or have your site dropped, make sure that your user experience is as good as it could be and that your site conforms with what has been mentioned in this article.