Understanding Google mobile-first indexing

Mobile first indexing
During the second quarter of 2018, almost 52% of the global mobile internet traffic originated from mobile devices.

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We now live in a mobile-first era. And Google is running the show. Since smartphones have taken the world by storm, desktop to mobile website migration has become a hot topic. However, if before it was a highly recommended option, with the latest introduction of Google mobile-first indexing, it’s now a crucial move.

We use our phone for everything. You might even read this article from your phone. That’s why websites need to be mobile-responsive. And when all it’s about good user experience, mobile responsiveness is not an option anymore: it’s a requirement. And Google approves.

During the second quarter of 2018, almost 52% of the global mobile internet traffic originated from mobile devices. Moreover, according to US-based research conducted by Similarweb the % of the time on site from mobile devices has grown from 40% to 49% and the mobile bounce rate has decreased from 52% to 47%.

On 19th September 2018, Google announced that the indexing of websites will be mobile-based, in other words, based on their mobile version content and not on their desktop one. What pushed them to take this decision and what does this entail for you and your website? This article wants to clarify what actually Google mobile first indexing is and what is it going to change. In particular, regarding the user experience and SEO best practices.

What is Google mobile first indexing and what’s going to change?

First, let’s step back a little. What does Google indexing mean? In a few simple words, when Google indexes a webpage, it turns it into a format readable by their ranking algorithm and then stores it in its database.

Before the mobile indexing occured, when a user searched something on Google, either on desktop or mobile, the ranking algorithm looked at the desktop experience and content. As a result, when a user was performing a google search on mobile, the results were based on the desktop ranking, causing sometimes bad cases of user experience, because the content of the webpage and its quality differed from desktop to mobile version.

Therefore, Google decided to take initiative and started to experiment mobile first indexing, ranking sites from the mobile experience and content. What is this going to change? If a website is built with a responsive design, meaning that both versions, desktop and mobile, of a website have the same content, there’ll be no impact. A minimum requirement asked to a website, is to be at least mobile friendly. Check out Google’s mobile friendliness test for that.

If a webpage has a separate mobile site, the switch to mobile-first index causes some issues. The solution is as simple as: build a website with responsive design, with a URL that adapts to all devices. Or, alternatively, make sure to have the same content on desktop and mobile version.

This is not news: having a responsive/adaptive website is a good practice not only for the new mobile indexing and Google rankings but also and most of all for site maintenance, UX and SEO. Hence, if not done already, it’s time to make that further investment. And if it’s something that’s bothering your good night sleep, take action: ask for professional help from a digital agency.

Mobile first experience: UX Matters

Google’s move towards mobile-first indexing is not a random one: it’s based on years of research aimed to enhance user online experience. Because, that’s right, user experience, UX, does matter, both offline and online.

Before Google introduced mobile-first indexing, having a responsive website was a recommended choice. “Responsive” means that the entire layout of the website responds based on the user’s screen resolution. After the new Google update, having an adaptable design has become a crucial necessity. An unresponsive website can cause several problems: texts difficult to read, buttons hard to click, leading to bad user experience and ultimately to bad conversions. Now, following Google’s mobile-first approach, an unresponsive design also hinders search rankings.

Moreover, having a single responsive website has several other advantages. First, it’s easier to manage, since it’s quicker to make changes on one platform rather than two, or more. Second, it ensures consistency in content and, as a result, in the overall image of a brand. Therefore, thinking about UX on mobile first is the winning move.

Here’s how some companies used responsive web design in a powerful way. (from left to right: mobile, tablet, desktop version).

Dropbox

Shopify

Slack

Wired

Google mobile friendly guidelines: Mobile SEO review

The search engine optimization world is an ever-changing one. Yesterday’s rules are today outdated. However, some best practices always remain the same.

The quality of the content, together with page loading time, is one of the first factors that Google looks at when ranking a page. With the introduction of mobile-first strategy, it’s crucial that the content of the mobile version matches the desktop one, that’s why the importance of responsive design. Moreover, even if for most might sound counterintuitive, size matters: long and informative content, when visually broken down with smart page graphics, wins.

For these reasons a mobile SEO strategy is now a must have for any website looking for users and conversions.

Moreover, according to Webmasters, here’s what you essentially need to get ready for the switch to mobile indexing:

  • high-quality content
  • structured data markups
  • metadata (coherence: website mobile)
  • rel=hreflang, to tell Google about the localised version of your page
  • if the mobile version is on a separate host, ensure servers capacity to handle the crawl rate, i.e. the number of simultaneous parallel connections Googlebot may use to crawl the site.

In conclusion, Google mobile-first indexing it’s nothing more than a move to follow user preferences and to increase their online experience. If your website is already built with a responsive design, you’ve nothing to worry about: the change will not impact you directly. If not, well, time to make that further investment, which not only will help your rankings and customer experience, but also will give a crucial twist to your conversion rates and, therefore, to the success of your business.

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