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Your Ultimate Guide to Google’s Mobile First Index
You may have heard rumors circling around about Google’s mysterious mobile first index. While some may have disregarded it as unimportant, and others may still be recovering from the news-induced panic attack, neither reaction is entirely warranted.
Yes, the news you’ve heard is true. Google is releasing this index. But no, it’s nothing to panic about. This update may have very little effect on your site and its rankings. And though there are some sites that may be hit harder by this than others, there are clear steps you can take to ease the blow.
What Is the Mobile First Index?
As the number of mobile-searchers continues to grow and further surpass the number of desktop users, Google has decided it’s time for some change. Google realized that it makes more sense to prioritize this large base of mobile users and provide them with the best possible search results.
Right now, the mobile rankings you see are based on how Google has crawled the desktop version of sites. With the mobile first index, Google will base rankings on how it crawls the mobile version of a site instead. This will apply to both the results you see on mobile and the results you see on desktop.
Makes sense, right?
91% of mobile users say access to content is very important. That means many may consider leaving a site if they’re unable to find what they’re looking for. We can’t blame them, and Google can’t either. In order to decrease the likelihood of this happening, only sites with quality, helpful mobile content will be rewarded with top ranking spots.
How Will the Mobile First Index Affect SEO and Rankings?
If your desktop and mobile site are, for the most part, not significantly different, you can rest easy. Google has stated that the change should not affect the search rankings in any major way.
Right now, Google looks at the desktop version of a page’s content to evaluate its relevance to users. This can cause issues if the mobile page has less content than the desktop version. If your mobile site includes the same content as your desktop site, it should still be ranked about the same as it currently is.
On the other hand, if the mobile and desktop version of your site differ significantly, you should take a few precautionary steps to make sure you’re ready when the index rolls out.
When Is the Mobile First Index Rolling Out?
The exact release date of the mobile first index is currently unknown, by all of us and by Google. Google is currently testing it out on a very small scale to a number of users to see how it goes. It shouldn’t be completely rolled out for a few months, but if the testing being done now is successful, it may be sooner. Similarly, if they run into problems, it can just as easily be pushed back.
What we are sure of is that as Google becomes more and more confident with the index, it will be pushed out to more and more users.
How Can I Prepare My Website for the Mobile First Index?
There are a number of things to look at on your site in preparation for the release of the mobile first index.
First and foremost, it’s important to compare the content on the mobile version of your site with the content on the desktop version. Since Google will now be crawling the mobile version, you’ll want to make sure that the same good, quality content from your desktop site is available on mobile.
The snippets seen in the results will be pulled from the mobile page, so make sure your meta data is consistent across platforms as well.
You’ll want to make sure the structured data is the same on both versions of the site too. If there are separate mobile and desktop URLs, update the structured data to the mobile version.
A common issue with sites that either use dynamic serving or separate URLs for the mobile version of their site is that the internal linking is much different than what’s on their desktop site. This can lead to user experience problems and can make it harder for readers to find content when they’re viewing the site on mobile than they would have if they were viewing it on a desktop.
Google has already shared that site speed is an important ranking factor, and that’s something that will stay consistent with the release of the mobile first index. It’s very common for desktop and mobile sites to have different site speeds. Though these two numbers don’t have to be identical, they should both be fast and relatively close.
We’re all familiar with how much of a pain it can be to watch a site slowly load on your phone. Because of this, we wouldn’t be surprised if site speed is still a big ranking factor when the new index is released.
Make sure the server that is hosting your site has the capacity to handle an increased crawl rate from Smartphone Googlebot.
What Is Mobile First Responsive Design?
A mobile first responsive design describes a technique in which a website’s design is automatically adjusted based on the size of a user’s screen. This technique makes it easy for users to browse a website regardless of what device they’re viewing it on.
With a responsive design, your site only needs one design. The content, user interface, and design of your site will adapt to a variety of screens, so you no longer have to create two versions of your site, one for desktop and one for mobile.
What’s the Difference Between a Mobile First and Mobile Friendly Approach?
It’s easy to mix up what it means to be a mobile friendly site and to be one that receives top rankings because of the mobile first index.
First thing’s first—the mobile first index doesn’t affect what Google has considered to be mobile friendly. Whether your site is mobile friendly or not will not be rewarded or penalized with the mobile first index. This index will only affect your rankings if the mobile and desktop version of your site are significantly different.
Mobile friendliness refers to how responsive your mobile site is and how well it can function on a small screen. Though this is still very important for mobile users, it won’t be rewarded with the new index.
A Mobile First Index Recap
When you hear the words mobile first index, there’s no need to panic.
Is the content on your mobile and desktop site relatively similar? Great.
Does the content differ significantly? Simply add the content from the desktop version of your site to your mobile site, and you’ll be good to go.
And just remember, the goal of this new index is to improve mobile user experience, not send business owners into a panic.
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