Google Mobile-First Index 2018: How to Prepare Your Business Website
In 2016, Google detailed its plans in changing their search engine algorithm to favor the mobile version of websites and improve search results. In the past, Google only considered the desktop version of a website when ranking and crawling pages. However, as mobile internet usage spiked in recent years, Google has gradually rolled out and experimented with minor algorithm changes leaning more on the mobile versions of content.
For years, businesses have been anticipating a major algorithm update following Google’s mobile-first indexing announcement. Earlier this year, after a year and a half of testing, Google has finally announced their official mobile-first index roll out. What does this mean for business websites?
What Is the 2018 Google Mobile-First Index?
Simply put, the mobile-first index means that Google will prioritize mobile-friendly websites when indexing pages and in deciding how to rank content in search engine results.
Starting this year, website owners will see a significant increase in crawl rate from Google’s Smartphone Googlebot. Furthermore, this also means that Google will show the mobile version of pages, or mobile-responsive websites, in search results and in cached pages.
Mobile-friendliness has long been considered as one of the many search engine ranking factors; however, it should be noted that it’s not the only factor. For example, there are instances when a non-mobile friendly website still has the best content for a certain search query, and thus will appear higher on search results.
To understand more about Google’s mobile-first index, see their developer documentation here.
How to Prepare Your Business Website for Google Mobile-First Index
1. Use a responsive web design
Using a responsive web design (RWD) is the most basic and crucial step a business website needs to do in order to prepare for the 2018 mobile-first index. A mobile-friendly or mobile-responsive website means that your website automatically adjusts to the screen size from which device screen or monitor the web page is being viewed. Other than helping your site rank better in search results, a responsive website also equates to better user experience. To help you get started, here are the basic elements of a responsive web design:
- Fluid design and site grids with proportionate variable measures, not fixed.
- Responsive text layout and images.
- CSS media queries to define breakpoints.
- Meta viewport tag to give browsers instructions on how to adjust content.
Google has also created a comprehensive guide on responsive web design. View it here for more information.
2. Use a single URL for both desktop and mobile sites
Using separate URLs for desktop and mobile sites are a thing of the past—that is, each desktop URL has an equivalent m-dot URL that serves mobile-optimized content. However, there still remains a number of websites that have dedicated m-dot sites up to this day.
If your site has separate URLs for desktop and mobile, it should be noted that Google prefers the mobile URL for indexing and ranking and, without proper Google Webmasters configuration, each of your URL will be ranked independently from one another. Here are a few best practices to implement as recommended by Google:
- Verify both versions of your website in Search Console; otherwise, your site may experience a data shift when Google switches to mobile-first indexing.
- Ensure you have the correct <link> tag with rel=”canonical” and rel=”alternate” elements to signal the relationship between the two URLs.
- Make sure that your mobile site contains the same content as your desktop site. This includes text, images, and videos.
3. Create high-quality, mobile-optimized content
In the midst of any major algorithm change, one thing remains constant: web content. One of the most common yet biggest mistakes that website owners make is disabling or cropping out certain content for the mobile version. The fact is that, although most mobile internet users have short attention spans, if you provide valuable content, they will take the time to engage with your content for as long as it offers them what they are looking for. It should be noted, however, that as long as your site is already mobile-responsive, there is really no need to create different content for each desktop and mobile versions.
When creating content, make sure to apply SEO best practices, such as using relevant keywords, providing consistent titles and meta descriptions across both versions of your site, using quality internal and external links, adding alt tags to images, and more. It’s also important to help search engines like Google to easily find content in your website. Creating and submitting a sitemap to Google Search Console is a start. For more information about Google’s recommendation for mobile-friendly content, check out their guide here.
4. Optimize site speed
Mobile-friendliness encompasses a number of factors in boosting visitors’ user experience, including how fast a certain page loads. According to research, 47% of consumers expect a website to load within 2 seconds; any more than that and they will immediately abandon the page, resulting in lost conversions and fewer web traffic—and ultimately, lower SEO ranking.
Recently, Google has added a ranking signal that uses page speed to determine a page’s mobile search ranking as part of their mobile-first initiative. This means that websites with slow page loading speed will be down-ranked. To optimize your website’s speed, here are some key takeaways from Google’s PageSpeed Insight Rules:
- Optimize images for mobile web viewing. You can use free online image optimizers such as TinyPNG and Compressor.io to easily compress your web images without compromising image quality.
- Enable gzip compression to reduce the size of the transferred response.
- Minimize redirects to improve site performance.
- Enable browser caching.
- Optimize CSS delivery by inlining CSS.
This year is just the beginning of Google’s official roll out of the mobile-first index. While it’s still in its initial phase, we can expect more changes in their search engine algorithm—both minor and major updates—in the months to come.google search, mobile first index, responsive web design, SEO