Google is working on what it calls the Google mobile first index. As with any significant change in Google’s search algorithm, it could impact your business by affecting the rank of your website in search results. To help you prepare, here’s what you need to know.
Before the Smartphone Age
To understand what is happening you need an overview of how Google works. It scans all the websites and pages it can find on the internet and puts those pages into its index. Its search algorithm then matches a user’s search to web pages in the index. This is how Google produces its search results pages.
Google used to only look at the desktop version of a website. This was back before smartphones when everyone used Google’s search tool with a computer or laptop. Over recent years, however, more and more people started to use their phones when searching for something in Google. In fact, we have now gone past the tipping point – more people search on Google using a mobile device than a computer.
This change in user behaviour is driving Google’s shift in focus. In 2016, it started prioritising mobile-friendly websites when its users searched on a mobile device. The search engine is now taking this a step further with the mobile-first index.
What is the Mobile-First Index?
Currently, Google’s main index contains the desktop version of websites. In other words, it looks at the structure, content, links, and other criteria of the desktop version and uses that to determine search rankings.
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The mobile-first index will change this focus from desktop to mobile to reflect the majority of its users. This means Google will crawl and index the mobile version of your site and will use that index to determine your position in search, even when the user searches with a desktop computer.
In other words, Google is working on switching its primary index of the world’s web pages to contain mobile versions of those pages instead of desktop versions.
What Will Be the Impact of the Mobile-First Index and What Should You Do?
There is a strong possibility that your search rankings could be damaged when the mobile-first index is introduced if the mobile version of your website is not fully optimised. Here are some things you need to consider:
- Responsive design – Google has recommended you use responsive design for many years. These are websites that dynamically adjust to fit the user’s screen. It means you can have one website, with that site automatically changing in size as required. This is the minimum you need to ensure you are not impacted by the mobile-first index.
- Optimised for mobile – often, a technically responsive design is not enough. This is because there is a wide range of screen sizes that users can have. Optimising your website means carefully structuring the content for each grouping of sizes, focusing heavily on usability and not just appearance.
- Content – the beauty of responsive sites is you have content on one website which displays regardless of the screen size. There are some responsive website designs where the content displayed changes as the screen gets smaller, i.e. websites that show less content to mobile users than desktop users. If this applies to your website, you will need to take action.
- Optimise the content – you should also look at the structure of the content on your pages as this should be optimised for mobile too. This means having a clean and uncluttered design with text that is super easy to read. You may also need to adjust your images so they look better on mobile devices. After all, your laptop or desktop computer’s screen has a landscape orientation while your phone is typically used in a portrait orientation. Images on your phone will, therefore, look different than on your computer.
- Speed – speed has always been important to Google. Focus on making sure the mobile version of your site loads as fast as possible.
- Interstitials – these are popups that you might have on the mobile version of your website asking visitors to sign up to your newsletter or offering them a discount. If you have interstitials, you might need to review your strategy as Google doesn’t like them.
The best advice is to take steps now to ensure your website is ready for the mobile-first index.