What is mobile-first indexing and why does it matter?
The number of mobile users keeps growing and is expected to reach 4.68 billion. Given this fact, it’s not surprising that the number of mobile searches has finally surpassed desktop ones.
Today, you just need to pull out your smartphone to pay your bills, send instant messages, download files, and check your email. You can even conduct voice searches and get the desired information quickly, without even looking at your phone.
Users have finally got the chance to consume their data fast, irrespective of their location or internet connections. This has made them more demanding and less tolerant of poor mobile browsing experiences. If your site takes ages to load or makes them pinch and zoom endlessly to find the desired information on their mobile devices, they will ditch it and find its better-optimized alternative.
Google is aware of this rising trend and it is constantly striving to make mobile users’ experiences smoother. Precisely because of that, they introduced the mobile-first index. Announced in 2016, it was finally rolled out on March last year.
To help you understand what mobile-first indexing is, how it impacts your online presence, and how to adapt to it, I’ve created this brief guide.
Let’s dive in!
The idea behind the mobile-first index
Traditionally, Google ranked websites based on their desktop versions. However, with the introduction of mobile-first indexing, this is no longer the case. Just like its mere name says, mobile-first indexing means that Google now crawls the online landscape from a mobile browser view and indexes the mobile version of your site.
Google’s webmaster trends analyst, Gary Illyes, emphasized in a recent interview that the idea behind mobile-first indexing was not to harm websites. Their priority is to make sure that website owners are giving their best to improve mobile users’ experiences. Precisely because of that, they’ve announced these changes on time and gave us enough time to prepare for them.
The impact on web design and SEO
From the examples given above, you can conclude that mobile devices have become a necessity of modern life. To align your website with your mobile users’ expectations, you need to stop observing your site as mobile-friendly. Instead, make sure the navigation, design, and the overall appeal of your site are mobile-first.
Now, you need to keep in mind that there is still a huge difference between mobile-first and mobile-only indexing. Google takes the mobile version of your site into consideration when ranking it, but it doesn’t mean your desktop site version is irrelevant. If your website doesn’t have a mobile version, Google will crawl and index the desktop one. Still, your site may be listed below the mobile-first websites.
How to tailor your website to mobile-first indexing?
If your site is already responsive, you have nothing to worry about. However, if it still doesn’t meet the needs of your mobile users, then you need to take immediate steps to optimize it and boost your rankings. Here are a few tactics you need to keep in mind.
Make sure your site is fast
To meet the standards of the mobile-first era, you need to make sure your site loads quickly. Namely, statistics show that the top ten search listings in the SERPs load in less than seconds. To improve your page load time, you should:
- Reduce redirects
- Put CSS at the top and JS at the bottom of your HTML files
- Compress images
- Minify your CSS and JS codes
- Minimize file size with gzip compression
- Leverage lazy loading
Voice Search Gains Prominence
Today, one-fifth of all Google queries are voice searches. And, with the growth of AI and wearable tech, this form of browsing the World Wide Web will soon become dominant. Its rise also brings numerous changes to the SEO sphere.
- Local SEO is now more important than ever
Statistics say that 22% of voice search queries are conducted to find local information. Precisely because of that, you need to focus on building a local SEO strategy for your business. For example, if you’re running a New York-based business, you will want to get your site noticed by your local audience. This will impact every aspect of your SEO strategy, from targeting local keywords that include your location to getting listed on relevant local business directories. Keep this in mind when outsourcing your SEO to professionals. Consider investing in a local agency that offers New York-based SEO services, understands your market, and can tailor your online presence to your local audience.
- Keyword targeting becomes more natural
With voice search, we don’t have to look at our mobile devices to search for the desired information. Most importantly, we don’t have to type in brief keywords to save time. Voice search gives us the opportunity to conduct conversational queries that mimic our everyday speech. This means asking questions and using natural sentences instead of these short, short-tail fragments. Precisely because of that, exact-match keywords are now less relevant. You need to target more natural, conversational keywords that will help you appear in front of your searchers.
Test your site
Before you start optimizing your site, you need to see how mobile-friendly it is. This is where tools like Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test may help. You just need to enter the link to your site and the tool will tell you whether your site is mobile-friendly or not.
Invest in a responsive design
When assessing a site’s mobile-friendliness, Google considers a wide array of factors. The site speed, images, keywords, social signals, local search optimization are just some of the positive factors it observes. The negative elements are, on the other hand, technical errors, small fonts, poorly optimized CTA buttons, and so forth.
Precisely because of that, you need to make your website responsive. Unlike mobile-friendly sites that are static and feel the same across different devices, responsive sites are flexible and adaptable to a user’s screen. The benefits of responsive website design are multiple. For example, it lets you have just one URL and solves the problem of duplicate content. Most importantly, an optimized site with clean design and simpler architecture will boost the overall user experience, increasing your traffic, conversions, and branded searches.
Optimize your Content for Mobile Devices
When optimizing your site for mobile search, you shouldn’t forget about your content. When reading your blog posts, your visitors need to have the same reading experience as those reading your content from desktop devices. Here is how to boost your readers’ experiences with your content:
- Polish up your articles. Long-form content (3000+ words) performs better on Google. So, if you’re writing lengthy posts that look great on desktop monitors, you need to see how they perform on mobile ones. Break large paragraphs down into smaller ones, use subheadings, choose legible fonts, and add images or screenshots to make them easier to follow. A nicely formatted content always converts better.
- Experiment with the types of content. For example, audio and video types of content perform amazingly on mobile devices. Combining different media may boost user experience significantly.
Over to you
The examples given above show how risky it is to ignore mobile optimization. Google is changing rapidly and if you don’t play by its rules, you may lose your prominence in the online world. These are the basics of mobile-first indexing and, if you haven’t prepared your site for it, now it’s time to rethink your strategies.
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