Google’s Switch To A Mobile First Index: Who Will Be Affected, And Why You Should Care
Google is now officially testing its mobile-first index, rolling it out for small scale testing in preparation for a "change which will happen in the coming months" - and for a whole lot of us, it's well past time to get on the mobile-first bandwagon.
Google expects to roll out the full mobile index in a few months time, and to eventually replace the desktop index completely - if you’re not already focusing your efforts on a mobile-first strategy, the next few months could be critical. Bottom line: if you have a mobile version of your site separate from your desktop version, this change will likely affect your rankings - and unless you adapt to the mobile index shift, it probably won’t do your site many favors.
What Will The Mobile Index Mean For My Site?
How exactly Google’s switch to a mobile index will affect your rankings depends largely on how you’ve organized your mobile site, and whether or not your site can efficiently be crawled, indexed, retrieved, and ranked by the mobile index. Depending on how many mobile-friendly signals your site is sending to Google, your ranking may be affected as a result of this switch. You can now submit pages to Google’s index using the "mobile friendly test tool", This tool allows you to check your sites "mobile friendly" status with google and index your webpages our anyone else's webpages.
There are 3 primary categories of mobile site architecture:
Responsive Design - the website scales to the screen size of the device being used. The content itself remains unchanged, but the site scales up or down based on the viewport of the device. This provides a seamless transition between mobile and desktop devices, which can greatly improve your chances to rank on the mobile index.
Dynamic Serving - These sites require you to maintain a list of user agents (think device names) so that when a particular device hits your site you will see the content scaled appropriately for that device. The sites use the same url structure which is good, but they require you to maintain that list of user-agents which does change quite often. The content is usually the same as the desktop device, however it can be different depending on how the site is structured.
Separate m. version - These sites are completely different from the main site and rely on user agent detection or mobile specific redirects. This is the MOST labor intensive version as it requires you to maintain two versions of the site at all times. This is widely regarded as the least desirable method of mobile content delivery. And a configuration like this will be the hardest to optimize for the new mobile first index.
And if you have no mobile site - may fortune be with you, because you’ll likely be losing out on the boost in rankings that responsive sites will see. Google will continue to crawl these desktop sites, but on the mobile index a desktop version won’t rank as well. The age of mobile dominance is here to stay, and it’s time to adapt to the mobile world or suffer the consequences.
This Has Been A Long Time Coming
These days, more than half of all users engage with the web through mobile devices - a first, and a breakthrough that will almost definitely shape our daily searches in a drastic way.
That’s because Google will create and rank its search listings based on the mobile version of content, utilizing a mobile-first search index to rank results appropriately. This will be true even for listings that are shown to desktop users - meaning if your site isn’t already focused on its mobile version, you’ll quickly find yourself being left behind in the months to come.
Of course, this is hardly a surprise for the industry - after all, we’ve seen the growth of mobile search pretty clearly for years now, with many users engaging from smartphones that are sometimes even faster and more up-to-date than the same user’s desktop. But for those businesses who have let the mobile revolution fall through the cracks, fear not - there are still plenty of ways to get your site ready to boldly go forth into a mobile-first search landscape.
Okay, So What Should I Do To Adapt?
For those sites who haven’t taken up mobile-friendly best practices yet, now would be as good a time as any to get in the game (and we want to help you!). That means prioritizing easy access on a small screen, including proper mobile-friendly design throughout your site to better facilitate a positive user experience, as well as smart targeting to reach a mobile audience.
Faster page speed is a critical component toward getting your site optimized for mobile. Minifying code, reducing redirects, optimizing images to the right size, and utilizing browser caching can all help to reduce load times and help your site load faster on a mobile platform. (Yes, these are highly technical terms, these are the things we eat, sleep and breathe to help your site perform better.)Some admins may also want to consider Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) technology, which utilizes mobile-optimized pages for lightning-fast load times that help to boost your mobile-indexed ranking. You can even test your page with Google’s testing tool to make sure your site is ready to roll on mobile from the word "go."
Prepare For Some Big Changes
Google’s shift to a mobile search index is nothing to be afraid of - although it will take a little getting used to. For now, the best thing to do is to start instituting these best practices to help make your site ready for the mobile age. Your commitment to mobile-first can be as intense or as laid back as you’d like - but the mobile age is here, and it might just be time for everybody to get onboard or get ready to be left in the dust.
We Can Help
Whether your site’s woefully behind on the mobile shift or you’re simply trying to keep on top of best practices, Altos can help get your site ready to take on the mobile-first world. Get in touch and we can help you get your site ready to take on the mobile index - and to anticipate the next big change and get on board for the future.