If you haven’t yet prepared for Googles rollout of mobile first indexing, don’t despair. We are still in the early stages of the change. The shift in organic search results is far from settled. There will be much larger scale migration of content to the mobile first index over the next few months. Mobile first indexing will reward websites that make mobile their priority (content, architecture, speed) with favored organic search rankings and the traffic that comes with them.
What is mobile-first indexing?
Mobile first indexing is a fundamental change in the way Google views, crawls and indexes content on your website. Instead of indexing desktop versions of your site to evaluate and rank pages based on relevance, Google will use your mobile site first. If you have a mobile responsive site, you have far less to be concerned about then those with separate versions for desktop and mobile or sites using the m.mysite.com domain structure.
Why is Google doing this? Because according to Google and many other studies, mobile search has surpassed desktop users and this trend will only continue to grow.
Is mobile-first adding mobile pages to a separate mobile index?
No. The mobile-first index is the same one Google uses now. The change to mobile-first indexing does not generate a new mobile first index, nor does it create a separate mobile index. Instead, it will change how content is evaluated and added to the existing index.
What to do?
From a technical perspective, if you have a responsive site, then chances are there will be minimal impact in terms of major platform or redesign efforts. The big shift will be in the importance to optimize your site for load time, the hierarchy of site and URL structure and how you think about content with regard to structure and mark up for mobile experience.
The most common issues when it comes to site speed optimization (other than the hosting environment) are:
- Image compression
- Enable Gzip Compression
- Leverage Browser Caching
- Serve Scaled Images
Image compression can be accomplished in many different ways. I know there are those who swear by WordPress plugins like Smush to compress images on the fly after uploaded to the Media Library. My personal experience has been those plugins aren’t as efficient or effective as compressing images prior to upload. One free tool I use is https://compressor.io/compress which does a nice job of compressing the image without degrading quality.
Gzip compression is a server side setting that most hosting companies will turn on for you depending on your hosting package. You might have trouble getting that done at hosting farms like GoDaddy.
Leveraging Browser Caching allows browsers to store cached content from a site so the next time a user visits your site they won’t have to load the entire page before browsing. It can significantly improve user experience. This is also a server side task, although it involves adding a little code to your .htaccess file. Easily done if you have access to the file, if not you will need your webmaster or hosting company to make the change.
Scaled images are appropriately sized for any device. Images for mobile devices are particularly susceptible to being the cause of slow page load times. By serving scaled images you can improve overall user experience and site performance.
Site Hierarchy and URL Structure
Every site has a crawl budget. Crawl budget is the amount time, effort and pages Google is willing to invest with it’s bots to crawl your site. There are many factors in determining crawl budget. The bottom line is to build a site that is thematically organized beginning with the top level navigation to secondary pages and then properly linked pages (links are what the bots crawl) to make it as easy as possible for bots to crawl your site and understand the relationships between pages of content.
URL structure is also important. You want to make sure that URL’s follow navigation. For instance www.mysite.com/services/my-service-1 rather than www.mysite.com/my-service-1. Search bots want to follow the logic, connection and relationships between top level navigation silos and the pages connected to them. They do this through the linking structure of your site. Make it as easy for them as possible.
How To Create Mobile Friendly Content
Content formatting and organization are critical for search engine consumption and user experience. The basic
- Headline (H1 Tag)
- Story (segmented by subheadings – H2 Tags)
Write short, attention getting headlines that let the reader know exactly what the topic of content will be. The recommended length for higher click through rate of headlines is less than six words. One reason for that is shorter headlines are less likely to be truncated on mobile devices.
The headline should be followed by a few sentences (no more than a paragraph) that summarizes the article. Keep it high level and enticing enough for the reader to want more.
The body of the article should be broken down into short snappy segments with keyword rich subheadings (H2 Tags). Keeping the segments short helps keep the content focused and relevant. It also allows mobile users to easily scan for the words or phrases that match their original search intent.
Add a brief conclusion to the end of the page that gives a summary perspective and if applicable a ‘next steps’ suggestion.
Mobile-First Indexing is sure to have a profound impact on SEO and the rest of the digital landscape over time. Don’t settle for a responsive site and expect your content to pass the mobile first index test. Your site may display properly across all devices, but if your content is difficult to read, your site is slow to load, or the hierarchy and URL structure is difficult to understand and/or crawl you will see a loss in traffic from the Google search engine. Your customers want to visit your site, buy your products and use your services. They want to do so from their mobile devices.