Mobile-First Indexing Is Here: What You Need To Know And Do

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here. Like it or not, Google made its first ever mobile-first indexing system official this week, announcing that the long-promised changes would now be brought into effect.

The question being – what, if anything, do you need to do about it?

Mobile-First Indexing 101

A quick recap for those still unfamiliar with the concept, Google’s mobile-first indexing system is a new approach to its indexation algorithm, focusing on mobile websites over and above their desktop counterparts. Specifically, the mobile version of any given website will be looked at predominantly, when Google assesses and grants its results page rankings.  

As far as Google is concerned, the justification for its new indexation system is simple. Worldwide, mobile web traffic has comfortably overtaken desktop traffic, so it simply makes sense to focus on mobile websites and general usability.

When first announced, it was assumed that the whole thing could prove to be a doomsday scenario for thousands of businesses worldwide. In reality – also quite mercifully – it seems this isn’t going to be the case at all. Despite having clarified its intent to focus predominantly on mobile content, Google is also adamant that mobile-first indexing won’t have a dramatic impact on most website and online businesses.

At least, not those that are already getting the job done right.

Minimal Impact for Most

While mobile-first indexing represents a significant step forward for the world’s biggest search engine, most websites can expect minimal or zero impact. For one thing, responsive websites in every capacity will be exempt from the new mobile-first indexing system. The reason being that as they don’t technically have a separate mobile site, they only have one site with one contingency of unified content to be assessed. 

Instead, it will only be those who have entirely separate websites for mobile and desktop users that can expect to see any difference whatsoever. The good news being that for those who’ve invested heavily in the creation of outstanding mobile user experiences, stronger rankings could be on the horizon.

Official Notification from Google

In order to let website owners know that the respective changes have been implemented, Google is providing official notification by way of its Search Console:

Not that official notification is strictly necessary – the new mobile-first indexing is official and happening right now. Prompting countless questions as to what can be done to make the most of it, or minimise damage at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Rankings Unaffected

Interestingly, Google itself broke silence a while ago to suggest that the new indexation system will not have any impact whatsoever on rankings. 

“Content gathered by mobile-first indexing has no ranking advantage over mobile content that’s not yet gathered this way or desktop content,” said Fan Zhang, a Google software engineer.

Nevertheless, he went on within the same sentence to state that the user-friendliness of mobile content is taken into consideration. He also said that those who get it right have the opportunity to rank more prominently.  Something of a mixed message, but a clear indication of the importance of mobile-focus in general.

Readying Your Site for Mobile-First

Given the fact that mobile-first indexing is now officially a thing, the time to begin the preparation process has long-since come and gone. Not that Google didn’t give adequate warning – we’ve all known things were heading this way for quite some time.

On the plus side, getting on-board with the whole mobile-first future at such a late stage isn’t necessarily the end of the world. Given the relatively minimal overall impact of this initial mobile-first indexing shift, there’s still plenty of time to get your website in order.

One thing’s for sure – those who continue to ignore the importance of mobile for much longer risk being left in the dust, once and for all.

In terms of specific measures that can (and should) be implemented to stay ahead of the curve, the following five come most highly recommended of all:

1.  Focus on the mobile user experience

Always remember that it isn’t simply a case of porting your content over to a mobile-accessible alternative site. Instead, it’s about creating a mobile site that is flawless in terms of performance, usability and the quality of the experience in general. Put yourself in the position of your mobile visitors and consider every aspect of their experience from start to finish. Unless you can honestly say that the whole thing is flawless, you need to instigate the necessary improvements. 

Not just for the sake of Google and the other major search engines, either. You can’t expect to nurture loyalty and establish authority in your niche with a substandard mobile website. Once again, try to remember that more than half of all web traffic now originates from a mobile device of some kind. Can you really afford to turn your back on such huge numbers?

2.  Consider the responsive approach

If you’re currently attempting to perfect and balance two separate websites, why not consider the responsive approach? The extent or whether this is necessary and/or advisable will vary significantly from one business and website to the next. Nevertheless, building and optimising a single responsive website has the potential to be significantly easier than juggling two sites at the same time. 

Going with the responsive option may mean undergoing a significant overhaul of your site’s content and general architecture from top to bottom. If this is the way you decide to go, you’ll need the support of an experienced web development team to make it happen.

3. Don’t short-change mobile audiences

It’s important to avoid denying mobile customers the kind of information and content their desktop counterparts are presented with. While there may be limitations, you need to ensure that as much of your primary content as possible is delivered to all users – irrespective of their chosen device and platform.  

Once again, it’s about unifying the quality of experience across both mobile and desktop platforms alike. Precisely what Google’s mobile-first indexing system is all about. Your mobile site should never be viewed as an addition or bolt-on, but rather a full and accurate representation of your desktop site.

4. Improve speed and performance

To date, Google hasn’t said anything specific about considering the speed and general performance of mobile websites. Nevertheless, general performance (page loading times, absence or errors etc.) already plays a huge role in determining Google’s SERP rankings. As such, common sense would dictate that even if speed and performance aren’t being factored into the mix today, they soon will be.

In any case, it’s no secret that the average mobile web user has just about the shortest attention span of any creature on earth. If you cannot provide them with exactly what they want in an instant, they’ll head elsewhere and never return.  So irrespective of Google’s current priorities, speed and performance should rank among yours. 

5.  Analytics and feedback

Last but not least, it’s unwise to formulate and execute your mobile strategy based on presumption alone. Nor is it necessary, given the availability of immediate and on-going analytics to help guide your decisions. Not only this, but reaching out to your audience directly for their feedback and recommendations can also help steer things in the right direction. After all, who better to tell you what your audience wants than your audience itself?

If evidence seems to suggest that your mobile website isn’t impressing its clientele, you need to do something about it. Analytics make it quick and easy to pinpoint exactly what is and isn’t working. Nevertheless, if you genuinely cannot work out why your mobile website is underperforming, outside assistance should be sought.

A Natural Progression

As touched upon, Google’s initial mobile-first indexation system isn’t expected to have a cataclysmic effect. Nor is it likely to see websites and online businesses suddenly skyrocket to the top of the rankings. Nevertheless, it indicates the earliest stages of a natural progression, which sooner or later will radically transform the way online businesses approach search marketing and SEO. 

Unfortunately, the fact that very little is likely to happen in the near future will undoubtedly lull men into a false sense of security. Nothing particularly severe takes place, so you figure your approach to mobile in general is pretty much fine. In reality, it could simply be a matter of time until more aggressive algorithm updates deal you and your website a hammer-blow. 

Long story short therefore – now is certainly notthe time to take things for granted or sit idly and see what happens. If anything, now’s the time to take more direct action to safeguard the future of your website than ever before.

About Tait Pollack

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