Google is doing it again.
Just as we get accustomed to things being a certain way, the tech titan flips the script and alters the prevailing paradigm. Fortunately, when Google does so, it’s usually for good, researched-based reasons, and this instance is no exception. So, what’s happening?
Google is altering its search engine’s indexing algorithm to give preference to mobile websites. Up to this point, for websites that have both a desktop and mobile version, Googlebot’s default has been to index the desktop version. Following the algorithm change, this default will switch, causing Googlebot to prioritize mobile versions for indexing. Google will be rolling out this change (known as mobile-first indexing) gradually over the course of 2018.
Indexing: A process wherein search engines assess and compile web content into keyword-based databases or “indexes.” Search engines rely on indexes to provide faster, more relevant results for user search queries.
The transition to mobile-first indexing reflects an increasing shift from traditional computers to mobile devices as the primary means by which people search the web. In 2017, it was determined that smartphones and tablets accounted for 57 percent of all search traffic. In light of these numbers, Google’s shift to mobile-first indexing seems a fitting response to the changing habits of users.
How will mobile-first indexing affect your business website?
In response to apprehensive reactions regarding the algorithm change, Google says mobile-first indexing is unlikely to have a significant impact on search rankings. However, this is a bit of a blanket statement. In all likelihood, its effect on a given website will vary depending on several factors, not the least of which is how that website is set up for mobile use. So, what about yours?
If your business website is not mobile-optimized, the change won’t affect you…not directly, anyway. Google will simply index the current version of your site. However, there may be some indirect consequences (more on this later).
If you already have a mobile-optimized site, the mobile-first shift may have a more direct impact, depending on how your site is set up. Websites that utilize dynamic serving (which serves desktop and mobile users different data) or have separate URLs for desktop and mobile versions could experience problems if the content varies substantially between those versions. If your mobile site is bare-bones or poorly structured, you might see negative consequences when Google starts indexing it instead of the desktop version. That’s why it’s a good idea to look over your site before this change takes place and make any needed adjustments.
The consequences of being mobile-unfriendly
As stated, mobile-first indexing won’t change how non-mobile-optimized sites are indexed, but it may bring indirect consequences. First, as more people favor mobile devices for web searches, having a site that isn’t mobile-optimized is likely to hurt your business. When mobile users have to zoom in to read a menu or wait for a slow site to load, the likelihood of them sticking around to complete a transaction goes way down.
But your potential troubles don’t end there. As preference for mobile devices continues to grow, it’s likely to impact your search ranking. Google looks at how users interact with a site as part of its ranking algorithm, so if it notices that fewer users are getting the goods from your site via mobile, it’s going to demote you accordingly.
The bottom line: If your business website isn’t mobile-optimized, you’re not just behind the curve, you’re headed for rough waters. If you’re unsure whether your current site is mobile-friendly, Google offers a simple tool to evaluate this. There are also tools available to test your site’s mobile speed, as well as resources for improving it.
If you want to get your business website optimized for mobile, you’ll need to consider your options for doing so. One is to create a totally separate version of your site for mobile devices; however, this can be a complex and painstaking task. A better option is to create a responsive website. In this scenario, you’ll only have one website, but its size and layout will adapt to the device on which it’s being viewed. That way, you don’t have to split your SEO efforts between two site versions.
The one potential issue with creating a responsive website is the age of your current site. Whereas most websites built within the last five years have responsive capabilities built into their code, older websites don’t have this advantage, so if your site is more than five years old, you’ll likely need to do a major redesign. If this is out of your budget, creating a mobile version of your site might be a better way to go.
What if your business website is already mobile-optimized?
If you already have a responsive website, it should be ready as is for the mobile-first shift. However, if you have a dedicated mobile version of your site, you have some work to do. First, make sure the basics are in place, such as well-structured data and descriptive meta tags. You’ll also want to make sure your mobile site’s content and navigation are equivalent to the desktop version. Going forward, redirect your SEO efforts from the desktop version to the mobile version. Since Google will be looking there first, that’s where your priority should be.
Regardless of how your mobile site is set up, the importance of user experience can’t be overstated when it comes to mobile search. This is largely because mobile users act differently than desktop users. For example, they tend to have less patience for slow or hard-to-use sites. They also tend to have more immediate search needs, such as finding a nearby store or needing a quick answer to a question. In light of this, it’s vital that your business website allows mobile users to quickly get what they need. This means fast loading speeds, easy-to-use menus and buttons, and Geo-SEO that lets local users find you easily (if you’re a brick-and-mortar). Don’t neglect these crucial features—your success may depend on it.
Mobile-first indexing is coming, and with it, an altered SEO landscape. It’s a brave new web out there, so buckle up and get optimizing!
To learn more about business website management and digital marketing, read our other blog posts.
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