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What Is Mobile-First Indexing? (+How Does It Impact SEO?)

George Konidis
George Konidis  |  July 1, 2019

Google recently announced that starting July 1, 2019, mobile-first indexing will be the default for all new websites. 

So, when a new website is registered, Google’s smartphone bot will crawl the site for mobile-friendly content and use it for indexing and ranking the pages.

The mobile-first indexing initiative was introduced because Google wanted to reward websites that make mobile their priority with the best search engine ranking. This is because most of Google’s traffic comes from mobile devices.

Sixty-three percent of users access the internet using mobile phones. Over 60% of Google’s organic search traffic comes from mobile devices.

In fact, Google’s Consumer Barometer Study revealed that mobile internet usage across 63 countries has already crossed the 50% mark.

People are increasingly turning to their smartphones to ask a question, look for a local business, or shop for daily commodities. As a result, Google is never going back to desktop-only indexing.

But what does this mean for SEO?

This post will help you understand what exactly is mobile-first indexing, how it impacts SEO, and what tactics you can use improve your SERP ranking and get more traffic.

What is mobile-first indexing?

Jayson DeMers shares his views on mobile-first indexing. He says, “Google just cares that people will be able to load all pieces of content on your page, read the text without having to zoom or scroll, and interact with any buttons present.”

Simply put, any webpage that views “correctly” on a mobile device will be seen as a mobile-friendly site by Google.

Google introduced mobile-first indexing to address the browsing needs of the ever-increasing pool of mobile users.

So before analyzing the desktop version, Google’s search engine spiders will crawl the pages to check the extent to which the site’s content meets the mobile display standards. The website will be evaluated based on factors, such as formatting, site speed on mobiles, and the width of the mobile content.

For websites not having a mobile-friendly version, the desktop version will still be used for indexing; however, the absence of a mobile-friendly option can negatively affect their search engine ranking.

SEO is about helping people find the most relevant content online. Mobile-first indexing helps make web pages relevant to users at certain times of the day on a particular device.

By making their site mobile-friendly, businesses can offer the most relevant content to their audience on the plethora of devices used by them during the day. Thus, through mobile-first indexing, Google is prioritizing mobile-friendly websites to serve the huge pool of mobile users with the most relevant content.

What does mobile-first indexing mean for SEO?

As discussed above, mobile-first indexing will reward websites that are optimized for mobile devices. Thus, your mobile site needs to be as good as its desktop variant, if not better.

How mobile-first indexing will affect your search ranking completely depends on whether or not your site is optimized for mobile.

If your site has a responsive design (the mobile and desktop pages are the same) it will not be affected by mobile-first indexing. Your webpages will adapt to accommodate different device screen sizes.

Sites with separate mobile and desktop pages will be the most affected by mobile-first indexing. In this case, Google’s spiders will crawl the mobile version first for the below-mentioned factors, thereby affecting the site’s search rankings.

  • The type of content served on the mobile and desktop versions
  • Structured data
  • Metadata
  • Verification of the mobile version in Google Search Console
  • The link profiles pointing towards the mobile pages
  • Mobile optimization

Best practices to boost your site’s ranking in the mobile-first era

An ideal mobile-friendly website has a responsive design, a healthy site speed, easy to use, and devoid of interstitial pop-ups. First things first, use the mobile-friendly testing tool to gauge your site’s mobile friendliness.

Google Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool
Which will then show you whether or not your page is, indeed, mobile-friendly. 
 
Mobile Friendly Test Results


Next, get the mobile usability report on Google Search Console to verify the pages that do not pass its mobile-friendly test. This is how the mobile usability report will appear if the site’s pages have issues.

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Image courtesy of SE Round Table

Once you have gauged the mobile-friendliness of your site, it’s time to optimize it for mobile viewing. Here are a few tips to make your site mobile-friendly, thereby preparing you for Google’s mobile-first indexing.

Optimize content for mobile devices

Make sure that the content is the same for the desktop and mobile version of your site. The best way to do this is through responsive web design (RWD). RWD uses media queries to automatically transition content across various devices.

Further, pay attention to the length of your posts. A 3000-word post would perform well on your site’s desktop version. But when it comes to mobile, long posts can be quite intimidating. Consider using short-form content or other types of engaging content, namely video or audio to make it easy for your users to access your content. Avoid using Flash as iPhones do not support it. Instead, use HTML5 videos for offering a better viewing experience.

If you have to post long-form content, make sure you use short paragraphs, boosting the readability of your content on mobiles and other devices.

Use responsive web design (RWD) techniques

The responsive web design uses a mix of flexible grids, layouts, images, and CSS media queries to respond to the user’s behavior based on screen size, platform, and orientation. So, when the user switches to another device, namely mobile or iPad, the site will automatically adjust to accommodate the new device’s resolution, image size, and scripting abilities.

Using responsive design will make your site fit the device (desktop, phone, or tablet) your user is active on, thereby improving user experience and enabling you to rank well on Google.

Increase site speed

Fifty-three percent of mobile site visits leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. Yet, the average load time for most mobile pages is 15.3 seconds.

Think With Google Load Time Test


Your site’s speed has a direct effect on user experience. Here are a few tips to boost your site speed.

  • Use browser caching to enable the user to determine if and when it can reuse a previously fetched response. For instance, the images or videos inside an article can be cached to improve site speed.
  • Implement Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to speed up your mobile pages.
  • Reduce the number of HTTP requests. An HTTP request made to various parts of the webpage, namely the images, stylesheets, and scripts significantly increases the site’s load time.
  • Minify and combine your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files. This removes the redundant data while boosting your site’s speed.
  • Optimize images to enable faster browser download.
  • Minimize the server response time by improving the web server configuration and enhancing the scope and quality of your hosting service.

Boost user experience

In the mobile-first era, user experience is one of the most important signals for search engines. If a user visits your mobile site and leaves within a few seconds, it’s a sign that your site is not as engaging and value-adding and did not match their expectations.

Think about how you can make it easy for users to consume your content on their mobile phones. Besides content and site speed, you need to optimize elements, namely dwell time, images and other media, search features, and navigation to boost user experience. For instance, simple tactics like making the CTA and navigation buttons easily clickable with fingers and using drop-down tabs or carousel navigation can go a long way in enhancing user experience.

Lastly, wherever possible, keep intrusive interstitial pop-ups to the minimum. Sites that use too many intrusive ads not only dissuade users but also attract penalties from Google.

Use structured data

Schema.org structured data (often called Schema) improves the way search engines read and represent your page in SERPs. This semantic vocabulary of tags is a result of a collaboration between Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex.

Structured Data Markup Helper


Adding Schema.org to your HTML will improve the way your page displays in SERPs, translating into the rich snippets in the mobile search results. Generate your own code using Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper, thereby enhancing the appearance of your website in Google’s mobile search.

Conclusion

The increased use of mobiles for accessing the internet and the growing relevance of Google’s mobile-first indexing has made it critical for businesses to adopt the mobile-first website design. Doing so can not only help them entice an increasing number of mobile users but also improve their ranking on Google.

Use the effective tips shared in this post to prepare your website for Google’s mobile-first indexing.

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George Konidis
Author

George Konidis

George Konidis is the co-founder of Growing Search, a Canadian based digital marketing agency providing optimal SEO and Local SEO services worldwide. He has worked on some of the largest online brands in the world with an overall contribution of over 15 billion monthly impressions. George works with clients to help scale their search efforts, develop content marketing ideas, and contribute to their overall growth strategies.