On 4th November 2016, Google revealed a massive change to the way they will process and index websites by announcing the mobile-first index on the Google Webmaster Central Blog.
What is the mobile-first index?
With the increasing popularity and sophistication of smartphones, more users are now searching on their phones than ever before. In 2016 we passed the tipping point, with mobile searches now surpassing desktop searches at 51.3% overall. However, some markets such as beds and furniture are seeing figures as high as 70% for mobile searches.
Google’s current ranking system primarily looks at the desktop version of a website to evaluate its relevance to the user’s query. However, following this huge shift in user behaviour, Google feels they need to re-evaluate how they process the web, which has led to the imminent introduction of the mobile-first index.
Essentially what mobile-first indexing means is that Google will crawl and parse a mobile version of a site (if one is available) and will use this version of a site to determine relevancy and rank for any given search query.
As using mobile devices is now the predominant way users browse the web, it is logical for Google to adapt and to ensure its search results and user experience on handheld devices is the best it can be.
When will the mobile-first index be launched?
Google revealed testing was underway when they announced this change in November 2016:
Google announced this change:
We will continue to carefully experiment over the coming months
‘We will continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale and we will ramp up this change when we are confident that we have a great user experience.’
It has been nine months since this initial statement and we still don’t have an exact date. However, Google’s Gary Illyes has since stated that the launch won’t be until 2018 at the earliest – so there is still time to act for webmasters who are concerned that their sites are not as well optimised for mobile as they perhaps should be.
Will I be affected by the mobile-first index?
If you do not have a mobile optimised site yet, Google says don’t worry;
‘If you only have a desktop site, we will continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we are using a mobile user agent to view your site.’
However, Google would not be extensively testing a mobile-first index if they did not anticipate that use of mobile devices for browsing the web is only going to grow. And while your desktop content may be crawled and indexed just fine by the mobile-first crawlers, it’s thought that Google will be increasingly less and less likely to serve desktop content to mobile searchers for fear of providing a poor user experience. Therefore, it would be highly recommended to invest in a mobile-friendly version of your site as soon as is reasonably possible.
To see if you have a mobile-friendly site, you can use Google’s testing tool here.
If you already have a mobile-friendly website, then giving it a full audit in the coming months will ensure it is as well optimised as it possibly can be and is setup to perform well in a world of mobile-first search. We can assist you with this full audit, so get in touch if you have any queries or to speak to an expert.
What do you need to do to prepare?
The mobile-first index is going to be a major transformation in the way Google processes and ranks websites. To avoid being negatively impacted, you need to ensure that your user experience is similar across both mobile and desktop. You should be considering the following:
Is the content from the desktop version visible/accessible on your mobile website design? If not, why not? It is essential that you can provide a consistent experience for every user, no matter their browsing device.
You can do this by making sure the layout and/or content is mobile responsive and adapts to the size of the screen they are presented on. A responsive website automatically changes to fit the device you’re reading it on through the HTML and CSS. You can find more info on responsive design here.
There are various tools online such as UserTesting which can show you valuable information and insights from users as they are browsing your site.
There is no need to add any code to your site in order to run the test. Users simply follow your predetermined instructions and will provide feedback to your questions.
This is a great way to ensure your a good user experience for customers on both the mobile and desktop versions of your site.
Is your mobile site as quick as it could be? Is it significantly slower than the desktop version of your site and/or your competitors’ mobile sites? If so, this needs to be addressed quickly. Site speed has become an increasingly important ranking factor on desktop over recent years and speed on your mobile friendly site will be even more important when the new index is fully live.
You can test your site speed using Google Pagespeed Insights, which will score the speed of your pages and will also provide comprehensive suggestions on how to improve it. We offer this as a standalone service if you’re still unsure of how or what to do, so speak to us for further help.
The internal linking on a mobile site can often be vastly different to the desktop site. If the linking architecture on the mobile site is not similar to the desktop, this can cause weak link equity distribution and can give searchers headaches if they are unable to find content that can be easily found on desktop.
You can see a full list of your internal links within Google Search Console and for more information on the importance of internal links take a look at this internal link guide.
How we can help
As we all prepare for Google to make the shift to mobile-first indexing, it is important to make sure your site is mobile friendly and ready for the new era. The sooner you can make improvements to your mobile site, the better.
In order to prepare for this change, we can perform a full audit on your site to see which of the aforementioned key points may need improvement. Our audit looks at the pagespeed, content consistency, internal linking and more. This will put your best foot forward to ensure that your site is mobile friendly and won’t be penalised when the change is implemented.
Get in touch with us today and our team of expert web developers can help you all the way from initial consultation, to fully implementing a mobile responsive site that adheres to the impending mobile first index.