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The Beginner’s Guide to Mobile-first Indexing

By Snap Agency February 21, 2017

Your business doesn’t just need to be online—your site also needs to be optimized for mobile. Today, more than ever before, your customers are searching for your brand with their mobile devices.

Optimizing a website for mobile requires a competent and caring SEO team. But, as a business owner, you want to understand at least the basics of mobile optimization first. Working with your SEO team will help create a better overall brand presence online.

So, what do you need to know about mobile optimization? Let’s take a look.

The Importance of Mobile Design

For about two years now, mobile searches have been more popular than desktop searches. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, over half of all visitors are likely to leave. People simply don’t waste time pinching, zooming and scrolling around web pages unfriendly to mobile searching.

A mobile-friendly site isn’t simply a regular website shrunk down to a smaller size to fit the screen of a phone or tablet. Instead, an optimized site is created from the ground up with mobile screen sizes (and their varieties) in mind. This includes:

  • Simplified written content
  • Easy-to-navigate menus
  • Video
  • Maps to any physical locations

Some do-it-yourself web page building platforms offer automated mobile conversion. This means you create a page for desktop and the platform automatically creates a mobile-friendly version. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be good enough for commercial use. Effective mobile optimization requires custom solutions from SEO experts.

Google Mobile-first Indexing Update

Mobile is changing. Google is rolling out their mobile-first index. This is a new way of ranking mobile sites. While you don’t need to know all the technical details, it’s a good idea to understand the basics.

Search engines use an algorithm to determine results. The algorithm ranks sites based on over 200 ranking factors. Some common ranking factors include:

  • Website Crawlability
  • User Experience
  • Links
  • Site Architecture
  • Site Trust

For almost two decades, the Google index looked at the desktop version to determine ranking. A search performed on desktop and one performed on a mobile device both work to create one index. Then, a mobile Googlebot crawler adjusts rankings accordingly for mobile.

The problem with this method is mobile versions of a site often have less content than their desktop counterparts. So any ranking index based on desktop will be unable to evaluate mobile sites properly. Google is hoping to change that with the introduction of mobile-first indexing.

How Mobile-first Indexing Works

Mobile-first indexing ranks results based on the mobile version of the content. The method of searching – desktop, tablet or smartphone – doesn’t influence the index. This is a big change from the previous method of indexing.

Eventually, Google’s algorithms will use a site’s mobile content as the primary basis for ranking. Data from the mobile site will also be used to show snippets in the results page.

Mobile Ranking Signals Explained

Ranking signals are all the optimization strategies, big and small, employed on your website. They’re a combination of technical factors, such as a quick loading speed, and creative ones, such as page design and blog posts. The more ranking signals you can send the search engine, the higher you’ll rank in the search results.

Mobile optimization can be split into two basic categories:

Improving the Ranking Factors on Your Mobile Pages

Your desktop site will continue to rank on its own merits. So no mobile site at all is actually better than one that is poorly made. Take your time (and hire an SEO agency) to develop a fully optimized mobile site. Certainly launch as soon as possible, but don’t launch until you’re ready so to avoid a decrease in SEO measures.

Two tools you’ll want to be familiar with:

Matching Ranking Factors between Your Mobile and Desktop Pages

You want the primary content and markup to be as similar as possible between your mobile and desktop pages. Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool lets you compare the structured markup between the two. Also, you’ll want to claim the mobile version of your profile in Search Console.

Mobile-first Timeline

The good news is mobile-first indexing isn’t rolling out overnight. This is more of a long-term project for 2017. Mobile-first started near the end of 2016. As the new year continues, so will the trial period with two indexations. A relatively small number of searchers will see mobile-first results. Most users will still see the desktop results.

Eventually, Google will switch indexing to be mobile-first. Your site should be preparing for this switch throughout the year. You’ll work with your SEO agency to optimize your mobile site so when the index switch occurs, your brand will have an advantage over the competition.

Mobile Optimization Means Success

Search engine optimization is increasingly becoming mobile-focused. Mobile optimization is an important part of every internet marketing strategy. Prepare today for mobile-first indexing and your brand will see big benefits in the future.

If you’d like to learn more about mobile-first indexing, and how mobile search can boost your business, we’re here to help. Comment with any questions below.