Standing out in a sea of websites doesn’t come easy. It involves consistent testing, UI enhancements, and accommodating ever-changing ranking algorithms. 

As the most popular search engine, marketers are quick to adjust to Google’s preferences. Every update means going back to the drawing board to examine how to improve user experience and appear on the front page of search results. 

One of Google’s latest initiatives is mobile-first indexing. Since July 2019, mobile pages are prioritized over desktop content as index entries. This decision was a response to the growing amount of web usage from mobile devices — that is, more than half of global website traffic. 

In 2018, 44.7% of US online purchases were done on mobile. By 2021, mobile commerce (mCommerce) is expected to conquer online shopping shares worldwide.

Google saw a way to make consumers’ lives easier and put it to action. In turn, users get to enjoy better services, and businesses are pushed to adapt and grow.

So how do you leverage this technology and what does it mean for SEO?

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

Google determines search page rankings by crawling websites to analyze content, code, and visual layout. Web crawlers take note of things like keywords, content freshness, and code complexity to organize pages in the search index.

When users hit the search button, Google retrieves data from its index and ranks pages according to many criteria. The quality and relevance of content are one of the most important factors in page ranking, as well as site speed and user experience

Mobile-first indexing just means site crawlers favor content on mobile websites over those meant for desktops. 

Previously, website indexing considered mobile pages as mere alternatives to desktop sites. Today, it’s the mobile version of websites that are used as a starting point to create indexes and dictate rankings.

The Impact of Mobile-First Indexing on SEO

As mobile-first indexing gradually eclipses desktop-first indexing, you’re probably asking how it affects SEO.

The first thing you should know is it hasn’t been rolled out for the whole web. Google only applies mobile-first indexing to websites that are ready for its crawling and indexing method.

Frequently crawled sites and newly-created websites have this feature enabled by default but for others, it has to be configured manually. It was meant to be fully implemented by September 2020 but was postponed to March 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In short, mobile-first indexing is not making big splashes just yet.

Still, its presence is making changes here and there. Websites that provide better mobile experiences are rewarded with higher rankings even on desktop results. 

It also caters to delivering the most appropriate responses to mobile searches which are growing to be more personal and conversational in tone. 

The most common searches involve looking up ways to get things done, solve a problem, or get around the neighborhood. A growing number of these queries are phrased with words like “me”, “my”, and “I”. 

To answer questions like “how do I make a website?” well, marketers need to rethink their content strategy. There’s a lot of talk about how mobile users gravitate towards short-form content, but that’s not always the case.

What’s important is understanding user intent. Are consumers looking for quick answers or in-depth analyses? What’s the motive behind their searches? These are things you should consider moving forward.

Best Practices for Mobile-First Indexing

As Google gets ready to make the complete switch to mobile-first indexing, the tech giant released tips on how you can better prepare your website. Here are some of them:

1. Test the Quality of Your Mobile Site

To give you an idea of where you stand, you first need to conduct a mobile-friendly test. The Google Mobile-Friendly Test Tool gives you a preview of how a page looks on a mobile device. It also generates reports on mobile-usability errors and page loading info.

Just enter a webpage URL and the tool does all the work. It looks out for unsuitable font sizes, incompatible plugins, viewport issues, and problems with web responsiveness. You will also be alerted of any unloadable resources like images, CSS, and script files. 

If you want a report on your whole website, you can get one using Google Search Console. Of course, you would have to verify ownership of the site. 

Additional tools to help you fine-tune your site’s mobile performance include BrowserStack, Keynote MITE, and W3 MobileOK Checker.

2. Use a Responsive Web Design

Appearing on top of a mobile-first index calls for a responsive web design. Take note that a responsive design is different from a mobile-friendly one. 

Mobile-friendly web designs display content across all devices, while a responsive web design adjusts pages according to screen size, device orientation, and resolution. So while all responsive web designs are mobile-friendly, not all mobile-friendly sites are responsive. 

Responsive web design makes use of flexible grids and layouts plus CSS media queries. These elements work to render content in a way that automatically adapts to different conditions.

Buttons are resized to be more tappable, blocks are rearranged for easy viewing, and content is optimized for effortless consumption. 

To ensure a truly mobile-friendly and responsive design, employ a mobile-first approach in web development. 

Design your website for the smallest screens first and then work your way up to larger resolutions. This way, you’ll be mindful of crafting and positioning ads, pop-ups, and graphics.

Furthermore, remove elements that have no controls in or are incompatible with mobile devices, like Flash and hover styles.

3. Keep Your Mobile and Desktop Sites Consistent

As we’ve mentioned, mobile sites are no longer secondary to desktop websites. Update the content of your mobile site to match what can be found for desktops. 

Remember that mobile-first indexing references content on mobile versions of websites first. Once the rollout is complete, only the content in mobile sites will be used for indexing and ranking.

See to it that information is complete, metadata are consistent, and all headings are present and formatted appropriately. You should also be using the same structured data for both versions of your website starting with Breadcrumb, Product, and VideoObject structured data.

Regularly check on these URLs and update them as you go either manually or with the help of tools like Data Highlighter.

4. Optimize Content for Mobile

Viewing websites on mobile obviously calls for some restructuring. Lengthy blogs that look okay on computers may be overwhelming when displayed on a smaller screen. 

Break up text by using shorter paragraphs and incorporating other content types like infographics and images.

Bear in mind, though, that having too many graphics can slow down site speed. Craft your content thoughtfully, use the right format, and compress file sizes as long as its effect on resolution is negligible. 

Note that Google supports SVG format images but it can’t index a JPEG file in an image tag inside an SVG markup. It’s also not recommended to use changing image or video URLs as they make it difficult to process and index your resources. 

Lay out graphics so that they’re easily seen by mobile users. If you’re adamant on adding sizeable videos or images, place them near the top of the page. 

The last thing you want are graphics that are often missed and only bog down your speed.

5. Grant Googlebot Access to Your Content

Finally, make sure that your content is accessible and can be rendered by Googlebot. 

Use the same meta robots tags for both mobile and desktop versions of your website. This is to guarantee that your pages can be crawled and indexed once it’s enabled for mobile-first indexing.

A good practice is to double-check what you’re blocking. URLs and CSS files that are blocked by the disallow directive cannot be rendered properly. This causes photos to disappear from Google Images, and worse, it negatively impacts your ranking.

Give Googlebot access to your primary resources. Additionally, ensure that your lazy-loaded content are visible to web crawlers. One way to do this is by implementing native lazy-loading which loads images early enough so they’re completely visible once they’re in view. 

Mobile-first indexing treats visible, collapsed, and hidden elements equally, so images and dynamic elements must be optimized for mobile viewing.

This update is still at its early stages and we can only expect more developments to come. Keep your website competitive by outsourcing your web development project to a team of professional web developers and designers. Contact DevWerkz today.