Google reaffirmed in a Nov. 4 post on the Webmaster Central Blog that a mobile-first index is coming.
I think many people have heard the news. I think many of those people are confused by it.
Are you clear on how a mobile-first index will impact your websites, clients and mobile SEO strategy?
See how many of the questions on this eight-question quiz you get right. (Skip straight to our mobile-first checklists.)
1. True or false: Google has two search indexes: a mobile-first index and a separate index of desktop sites.
False. Google has said that they have only one index. There will not be two different indexes for mobile sites and desktop sites, despite the massive amount of confusion.
— Paul Haahr (@haahr) November 5, 2016
However, the algorithms are different for mobile and desktop search results.
Google has decided that mobile is the first priority in everything they do and represent.
More people are going to search on a mobile device, therefore all the results are going to be optimized for a mobile device. Hence, Google designs a separate mobile algorithm, but a single, mobile-prioritized index.
Google is going toward a mobile-first index because Google has decided that’s where the market is going.
But we should understand that for responsive sites, the page is the same on desktop and on mobile, thus the indexed content is the same.
I stress that this change is fundamentally around mobile algorithmic variables being weighted first.
2. True or false: Mobile-friendliness is pass or fail.
False. While the results of the Google Mobile-Friendly Test are binary — you’re either gruesome or awesome — I’d bet there’s a hidden scale in the Mobile-Friendly Test.
If you run your site in the Mobile-Friendly Test, you might get “awesome” but you may be only 71 percent of the way to being optimized for the mobile UX.
Don’t settle for an “awesome” result and assume you can’t get better. Google has a tendency to change the rules, and awesome today may not be good enough tomorrow.
3. True or false: An SEO strategy is constructed for the mobile ranking algorithm, not the mobile-first index.
True. It used to be the case that a responsive site, if not particularly mobile friendly, could still rank on a desktop, and that site could still show up on a mobile SERP.
Search engines have a different expectation for how the page and elements of the page perform on mobile, items tested by the Mobile-Friendly Test, for instance.
The Google opinion is that if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load a page, they’re not going to show that page in their search results.
They’re going to keep track of page performance, and slower pages will suffer in the rankings.
They expect everything to display in the initial screen above the fold in under a second.
Along with mobile-friendly optimizations, expect ranking-related AMP issues, and other things that have yet to be announced. These factors influence whether or not a mobile site is ready for prime time and ready for showing up in the Google search results.
4. True or false: A good desktop site that functions on mobile is better than a broken mobile site.
True again. There was a clear caveat in the Google announcement: if today you only have a desktop site, don’t rush out and publish a poor mobile site. From the Webmaster Central Blog announcement:
“If you are building a mobile version of your site, keep in mind that a functional desktop-oriented site can be better than a broken or incomplete mobile version of the site.”
Make sure you’re serving visitors rather than checking boxes; make sure that the functionality is all there.
5. True or false: A responsive site is a good user experience.
False! Don’t mistake a responsive site for a good mobile UX. You might think that your site is responsive, pages are resizing – but consider the user experience.
Resizing is just one part of a responsive and mobile-friendly site. What is the user doing differently on a phone?
People search differently on mobile vs. desktop. What info is someone looking for on a mobile site and how easy is it for the user to find it?
6. True or false: User intent differs from mobile to desktop.
True. We used to think about user intent as “Do, Know, Go” – complete a transaction, get information, or navigate to a web or physical location.
Today we think of user intent in terms of “micro moments”; there are so many degrees of user intention that mobile web browsing affords.
- 82 percent of smartphone users turn to their phone to influence a purchase decision while in the store.
- 91 percent of smartphone users use their phone to get ideas while performing a task.
- 90 percent of smartphone users get things done online toward a long-term goal or multi-step process while out and about.
What sort of info is someone likely to be looking for on your mobile site, and how easy is it for someone to find that information?
How well are you catering to people visiting from a phone?
Are your links smart? Are your location and hours easy to find, and do you have markup on those?
How does your site search work?
For someone looking for your business location, are your directions marked up with structured data?
Do you have markup on pages? From the Google blog post: “Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version.”
7. True or false: People consume different content types on mobile.
True, of course. Catering to the mobile experience is much broader than sizing and formatting.
Have you thought about what people are doing on their phones?
Navigation, images and content that is easily digested is key to mobile success.
Unique to the mobile experience is performing voice searches and a higher demand for finding brick-and-mortar locations.
And then there’s the time spent on a mobile device viewing videos. That means mobile SEO includes optimizing for video search or optimizing for a YouTube search.
8. True or false: AMP could be a game changer, in more ways than we imagine.
I’m predicting this will be true.
We know AMP is a dominant algorithmic variable. Consider the SEO benefits of AMP on top of the mobile-first index, and AMP could be irresistible to highly competitive enterprise organizations.
In time, as AMP and mobile-friendliness factors get ratcheted up in the mobile algorithm, the definition of a top-ranked organic site may be that you bought into AMP and you got your organic listing by spending a ton of effort to optimize your site in AMP.
Mobile-First Index SEO Prep Checklists
We develop checklists around the technical processes we do for our clients. For our general SEO checklist, check out the Always Up-to-Date SEO Checklist.
To make sure our client sites are ready for the mobile-first index, we created these mobile-first checklist items to use along with our All-in-One Mobile SEO & Design Checklist.
Use this checklist to prep your sites with responsive design.
In general, no extra work needs to be done for a fully and properly configured responsive site because the same content exists for mobile and desktop, adjusting to the browser and size of either. However, confirm two things:
Use this checklist to prep separate mobile sites.
In addition to the above two points, here’s a check list of additional safeguards to take for clients with a separate mobile site:
- Check the mobile site with Google’s robots.txt testing tool to ensure that Googlebot is not blocked.
- Review the mobile site’s content depth to make sure it will merit the long-tail searches that the desktop site qualifies for.
- Make sure any structured markup on the desktop site also exists on the mobile site (to protect featured snippets and other SERP elements).
- Note: Canonical tags may be left in place (assuming they are implemented correctly on the mobile site).
Google has decided that being mobile-friendly and being fast is critical. The announcement isn’t news because Google has been discussing this at conferences for a long time.
Still there’s much to do in adapting to the fact that user intent, content consumption and varying form factors differ from mobile to desktop.
Let us help you drive and track traffic to your website with a mobile-first SEO strategy. BCI’s services are tailor-made to match your business goals and audience. Let’s talk more about growing revenue through digital marketing.
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