Google’s Mobile-First SEO Indexing for New Sites is Here…But What Does That Mean??
While Google’s move to their mobile-first search index may not be news, there is a change that went live July 1st 2019 that you may not know about yet: all “unknown-to-Google” websites will now be scored and ranked for Google organic search results by Googlebot-mobile instead of the signaling previously discovered on the desktop experience. In this article we’ll detail what that means for you and your website’s SEO efforts.
- Around 50% of the internet has been moved to the mobile-first index.
- How can you check if your site has been moved?
- What Does the Mobile-First Index Mean for my website and my SEO efforts? Answer: mobile-desktop signaling parity is key.
- What should you do if your site isn’t ready?
Over 50% of the Internet Has Been Moved to the Mobile-First Index
With roughly 1.7 billion live websites (as of the time of this post) and over 130 trillion pages on the Internet, Googlebot has had to do a lot of crawling and re-indexing of the Internet since their original mobile-first indexing announcement. So the move to mobile-first has been a slow one.
WillowTree has been developing mobile solutions since 2007. We’ve seen user trends parallel SEO trends. And we know that users have steadily moved towards greater mobile adoption for their daily engagement with brands and organizations. So it came as no surprise that Google would adapt their search algorithm to score website content on the mobile experience.
What Does the Mobile-First Index Mean for SEO and My Website?
You can find out whether and when your website was moved to the mobile-first index by checking your site’s Google Search Console “Settings”. If it is predominantly crawled by “Googlebot smartphone”, then it has been moved.
If your site hasn’t been moved to the mobile-first index:
1. Make your site mobile-friendly. Soon. Google prefers a single URL for both mobile and desktop experiences. Responsive design is their preference, but adaptive design also works, as long as you meet all the criteria in #2 below.
2. Ensure content parity between mobile and desktop. Ensure your site content and technical signals on the desktop experience are also mirrored on the mobile experience. This means internal links, text, videos, images with associated alt text, and structured data markup should all be crawlable for bots on both experiences. Don’t be concerned about having to cram your entire breadcrumb structure or all of your viewable desktop content into the mobile viewport. John Mueller, Google’s Senior Web Trends Analyst and most frequently quoted rep for Google’s search team, stated that it’s perfectly acceptable (and not considered cloaking, which violates Google web guidelines) to visually hide these types of elements via tabs or other tactics, if it’s done to improve the mobile experience.
If your site has been moved to the mobile-first index, you should focus your SEO efforts here:
1. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly. Having a mobile site doesn’t mean you’re mobile-friendly. Fortunately, Google Search Console offers a handy report detailing exactly which pages are and aren’t mobile-friendly, and provides tactical guidance to correct the problems such as:
- Text too small to read on mobile
- Clickable elements too close together
- Content wider than mobile screen
- Viewport details not set
Plus, you can validate fixes directly in the Search Console user interface once complete!
- If you’re leveraging an m. subdomain, that will still work, but responsive design is Google’s preferred solution. Ensuring that proper rel=canonical and rel=alternate tags are in place is critical for separate mobile subdomains. (It’s worth noting that separate AMP mobile pages remain a viable alternative, but more on that another time).
2. Ensure your site has a solid technical foundation
- Confirm that your content is crawlable by search engine bots. If bots can’t access it, it might as well not exist.
- Clear navigational structure with HREF links to all your key content. XML Sitemaps aren’t a substitute for good internal linking.
- Leverage structured data markup on valuable content. This allows you to take advantage of appearing in Google’s rich search results AND ensuring search engines can readily parse and understand your content more effectively.
- Make sure your pages load fast. Site latency is an SEO ranking factor, albeit a small one, unless your site is egregiously slow.
3. Provide good content that addresses your audience’s needs and is backed by keyword research:
- Know your audience. Develop personas of your target audience to understand what their needs are and how your business can address them.
- Let data drive your content strategy. Use search volume data found in Google’s Keyword Planner (a tool of their Ads interface or through a variety of other SEO tools). Work to understand what your audience is searching for and develop content to answer their search queries.
4. Measure your work. Test. Tweak. Rinse. Repeat.
- Use analytics (like Search Console) to understand if your site is hitting all the KPIs that are important to your business and driving qualified traffic. If not, you may need to re-think certain aspects of your strategy to see how you can refine your approach.
Going to market with a mobile-first mentality will improve the user experience, particularly if most of your traffic comes from mobile devices. But it also has clear implications for your visibility in organic search results and profoundly impacts your ability to attract and retain new customers.