How to Prepare for Google’s Mobile-First Index

While the phrase “mobile update” is enough to trigger fearful flashbacks to Google’s mobile-focused “mobilegeddon” in 2015 and 2016, it shouldn’t. In fact, we’re wagering that Google’s attempt to make smartphone user experiences more enjoyable offers myriad opportunities for businesses and marketers.

Google’s new mobile-first index is launching this year, two years after Gary Illyes made reference to it at SMX West. In order to make the most of this change, consider these tips:

Keep Your Cool

At worst, the mobile-first index has you terrified for your rankings. At best, you’re nervously twiddling your thumbs while you wait for Google’s other shoe to drop. In either scenario, you likely have a slew of questions. Do I need to change my canonical tags? Will rankings change, with fewer links and concise mobile content? Will expandable mobile content count toward ranking in a new mobile index? For answers, there are a slew of excellent resources to put your harried mind at ease.

However, we truly have no reason to expect the worst. Google’s Paul Haahr and Gary Illyes have both publicly predicted minimal changes to search results as a result of this update, so Mobilegeddon 3, while it sounds like a great movie title, is a far-from-likely outcome. The key to surviving and thriving is to make sure you have either a separate mobile site or use adaptive or responsive design and always follow Google’s guidelines. In fact, by following Google’s suggestions to a T, you may even beat your own best ranking.

What Does Mobile Indexing Mean?

Google currently only has one index, based on desktop sites. The Googlebot with desktop user agents creates signals that Google then crawls with a mobile Googlebot to gather signals, mobile-friendly and otherwise. However, Google is not creating a new index based on mobile sites.

When a user searches Google today, on desktop or mobile, the algorithm’s retrieval aspect views the desktop index created by the Googlebot desktop crawler. From there, it finds relevant results based on this index, ranking them based on the desktop index and showing the searcher a snippet, also based on this index. From there, the Ranker assesses the mobile signals collected by the mobile crawler and adjusts rankings as needed.

This is far from a perfect system. In many cases, a user sees a snippet, clicks the result, and gets directed to the site’s mobile homepage, realizing that the content they wanted does not exist on the mobile version of this site. This is a poor, but common, user experience.

Google’s goal with the mobile-first index is to stop this faulty activity dead in its tracks.

What Content Will Actually Be Affected?

The mobile-first index will only affect pages with a mobile version that does not include the same content available on the desktop version. Consider a case study page: if the case study is featured on a mobile version that does not include all of the content on the desktop page, it will lag in search. However, if the case study has only desktop pages, the content will still rank, however unattractive it may look on mobile phones. Understanding this distinction is crucial to succeeding in the mobile indexed future.

Know How to Build Stellar Mobile Content

Producing exceptional mobile content means understanding what mobile users want, and giving it to them consistently. Sites like State Farm have highlighted roadside assistance and accident help for mobile users, who are more likely to be seeking such advice than users on desktop. Arby’s added their location to the foreground of their mobile home page, not on desktop, to cater to a hungry and on-the-go audience. The point: producing great content is not enough. Creating great content that caters to a specific audience with particular needs is what boosts rankings and ROI.

If you were inspired to start updating your mobile content back in 2010, Google was unfortunately still ranking websites based on desktop content alone, so your mobile SEO was not affected. However, times have changed. In 2015, Google mentioned that “near me” searches had increased 34 times since 2011 and had doubled between 2014 and 2015, a big vote in favor of geolocation. While Google is currently only reviewing desktop content and thus doesn’t see geolocated mobile text, they will with the arrival of the mobile-first index, and will understand the relevance of each page based on user searches.

Now is the time to make your mobile content more appealing to mobile searchers. Consider progressive web apps, which make available functions previously possible only in apps. While your brand may not need a flashlight or guitar tuner, creating a brand-relevant web app can positively affect your SEO and site traffic over time.

If you’re nervous about the mobile-first index affecting your site negatively, reach out. Our team at BOWEN includes skilled, passionate digital marketing professionals, here to help you navigate Google’s updates and stay on top of your game.

BOWEN MEDIA

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