March 13, 2020

Mobile-First Indexing Is Coming

For years, the desktop computer was the exclusive way to view and interact with websites. But, as mobile devices and tablets emerged, the need for mobile design heightened, and web designers and developers began creating completely separate websites for mobile users. For those of you long-time digital marketers, you may remember when you would see things like “m.facebook.com” show up in your Google Analytics reports, signifying that the traffic from Facebook was coming from Facebook’s mobile website. 

Eventually, the industry shifted from requiring separate websites to accommodate mobile devices to designing and developing one website design and then making that website responsive to different screen sizes. This is what we call responsive website design.

While responsive web(site) design has been around for nearly a decade, the mobile-friendliness orientation of Google began in April 2015. Next came Google introducing mobile-first indexing in late 2016 as “an experiment.” Fast forward just three years and Google announced that they will be indexing new websites mobile-first. Do you see where this is going?

Last week, Google announced that by September 2020, all websites will be indexed mobile-first. This means that Google will predominantly use the mobile version of your website and its content to determine the ranking. This is a major deviation from the historical use of the desktop version of a page. So how did we come to this?

The Mobile Revolution

The shift to mobile devices has been long in the making. Across industries and businesses, a growing percentage of total website traffic now comes from mobile devices. In fact, over 50% of website traffic comes from mobile devices. We’re going to say that again in case you missed it.

Over 50% of website traffic comes from mobile devices.

Think about that. Over half of your website’s visitors are reaching you via their mobile devices. If you’re not prioritizing mobile website design as a way to attract, convert, and delight your visitors, you’re missing out on business.

What to Expect

With Google’s transition to mobile-first indexing, it won’t change your everyday use of the internet. In fact, there’s a chance that Google has already begun mobile-indexing your website, considering that Google has already done so to 70% of websites on the internet. Site owners will likely see an uptick in Googlebot crawling as Google will be focusing on it both for the traditional desktop and for the mobile user. From now until September 2020, Google will continue to move sites over when their systems “recognize that they’re ready.”

If your website already uses responsive web design, this won’t be all that much of a shift for you. If your website is older or not responsively designed, this change should act as a major nudge to invest in a responsive website design. 

Responsively designed or not, here are a few large-impact practices your website should be practicing to improve its mobile-indexing abilities.

Best Practices for Existing Websites

Mobile-first indexing has been a long process in the making. Google offers a plethora of tools to assess your indexing with Google Search Console; especially the URL Inspection Tool within it. To ensure that Google is crawling your website properly, you should verify both the mobile and desktop versions of your website on Google Search Console to ensure you are informed on all versions. Outside of assessing how Google crawls your website, some basic best practices to focus on for mobile-first indexing optimization include the following:

Content Consistency

While sites age out of the desktop priority, the content may not. Make sure that your content is the same across devices. This includes images, links, videos, etc. This also means that the metadata (i.e., meta descriptions, alternative text, and titles) to these elements are consistent as well.

Crawling Ability

To properly index your website, Googlebot must be able to access all desired portions of your website. It’s important that your website is not “lazy loading” any primary content (content that does not require user interaction). Lazy-loaded content is content that loads in the background of the website. Developers use this functionality on pages with long streams of content on it to protect the page speed. While it’s an effective practice for user experience, Googlebot will not consider it when indexing the page content. If you’re concerned about the page load time, Google offers its PageSpeed Insights to check the load time of your website URL across mobile and desktop.

Similarly, ensure that the robots tags placed on your pages are consistent across mobile and desktop. Commands like “noindex” or “nofollow” tell Googlebot not to crawl or index these pages. If there are inconsistencies across devices, you could be hurting your search engine visibility.

Photos/Videos

With the growing popularity of photo and video content to provide an optimal visual experience, it’s important that you use high-quality images/videos in optimal file formats. These files need to have consistent metadata as well. Google also recommends placing such visual content in an easy to find position on mobile devices. For instance, the popular shoe brand, Allbirds, uses a short informational video consistently at the top of the materials pages. It would be difficult for a user to miss this video content.

Here to Help

With this sweeping change hitting every corner of Google accessible websites, navigating it all for your website can be confusing. If you need help knowing where to begin, our team of web developers and digital marketers can help get your website prepared for the mobile-indexing transition.

Caleb Knight

Caleb Knight

Caleb focuses on providing clients with exceptional results through strategy, content, and data.