It's no secret that you need to have a mobile-responsive and user-friendly website in order to rank well on search engines. Google simply isn't going to give the number one spot to a website whose mobile experience is extremely poor. In fact, as far back now as spring 2016, the search engine giant started rolling out penalizations to websites that weren't mobile-friendly and responsive.
But if your website doesn't optimize properly to a smartphone or tablet screen, your business is about to get pushed down even farther. 60% of all searches are conducted on mobile devices, and Google only wants the best results to get shown to its users.
So their newest plan is switching up their algorithm to a mobile-first index.
What does this mean?
Well in the past, Google has indexed websites for its search engine results pages (SERPs) entirely based on a user's desktop experience. Over the past year or two, they've transitioned more and more to including a user's mobile experience in their indexing.
But soon, they plan to move entirely over to mobile-first indexing, and ranking the content and experience on a website by what it looks like on a mobile device.
Essentially, if your business doesn't have a mobile responsive website, the time is now to switch to a responsive design. Because your website could be majorly penalized in organic search results if the user experience on mobile is poor or the content isn't well optimized and difficult to read.
How can you prepare for the mobile-first index?
Luckily you still have some time to prepare. Although no one is entirely sure when this will be rolled out (they've hinted at early 2018 and some sites have been tested on this mobile-first index throughout the last few months), we do know it will be sometime this year, and probably sooner rather than later.
So while you have time, you don't have much of it. Here are a few things to get you started.
1. Ensure your business's website is mobile-responsive.
The first thing you need to do is get your website optimized for a mobile experience. Regardless of who your target audience is, members of every generation are conducting online searches on mobile, and you need to get with the times.
If you're unsure if your website is mobile-friendly or not, you can easily check it with Google's Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Paste the URL to all of the main pages of your website into the box and allow Google to analyze it to ensure your website won't be penalized.
If the analysis says the page isn't mobile-friendly, see what you need to change in order to optimize it for a mobile experience.
2. Optimize your website's site speed.
If there's one thing you need to focus on to improve the experience for mobile users, it's site speed. People on mobile are already on the go. This makes the need or desire for a snappy website that much more prevalent. And if your website is loading slowly, users are going to click away from it and possibly even go to a competitor's website. In fact, over half of mobile site visitors will leave a site after 3 seconds of load time.
Luckily, Google has a tool for this, too. Use the search engine's PageSpeed Insights tool to see what your website's speed and optimization scores are. The results will let you know exactly what could be holding up load times and how to fix them.
3. Put all valuable content on your mobile site.
In the past, many webmasters and developers have actually created a separate website for mobile. If your business's website is set up like this, don't fret. Although it may be a smart idea at some point to switch to a website design or theme that is mobile responsive, having a separate mobile website (i.e., m.yourwebsite.com) may not technically penalize you.
Essentially, Google will just start indexing that mobile site first before looking at your desktop site. What this means is that you need to ensure all of your primary and most valuable content is readily available for Google to index on your mobile site.
If you've previously kept your mobile site pretty bare bones, it's time for a total overhaul. You want the search engine to still be able to index all of your content for its SERPs, so you may need to do some adjusting on your business's mobile website.
You will also want to ensure that you claim your mobile website in Google Search Console to ensure the search engine knows where to find it. Verify that your mobile version is accessible by the GoogleBot with their robots.txt testing tool.
4. Look into AMP webpages.
AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages, is currently an open source initiative to help increase load times on mobile pages. AMPs are a project owned and hosted by Google, and will likely see an uptick in usage due to this new mobile-first indexing.
We predict that these will become more and more popular with the implementation of Google's mobile-first indexing, and getting ahead of the curve with this could be a very smart decision for your business and website.
This new mobile-first indexing is certainly not the end of the world. In fact, if your website is already mobile-responsive, you may not even notice any changes. Plus, it would be bad for business if Google implemented this change immediately and their search results went haywire. So they're rolling it out slowly to websites that they know won't see any huge changes first, then will continue releasing it until it is universal.
Take advantage of this slow rollout to prepare for any impact your website could potentially see, and go through all of the above steps to prepare. Ready to go mobile-friendly? Request an assessment for your website today!