Mobile-first is here….is your website ready?

2 May 2018

As you probably know by now, SEO is an ever-changing landscape and one in which it pays to be ahead of the game. That’s why we thought we’d share some new and very exciting developments that Google has been working on with regards to your mobile website.

Over the last few years there has been a steep increase in people searching for information via their smartphone rather than their laptop. In fact, it is estimated that 60% of searches are now done on a mobile and this is only going to increase over the next few years. The rise in mobile searches means that there is currently a discrepancy in how mobile sites are ranked. This is because they will generally still be indexed based on their desktop counterpart. Desktop sites are gradually becoming less relevant to users as they migrate to searching via their smartphone and we all know that Google loves to be relevant! Therefore, to deal with this issue Google is beginning to move towards mobile-first indexing. In simple terms this means that Google will begin to prioritise indexing your mobile pages over your desktop pages. It is thought that over time desktop pages will gradually begin to be phased out of their indexing process.

Obviously this will mean changes to your current website structure but there’s no need to panic! Google has said that the move to mobile-first will be a gradual process. Whilst they have already begun to roll it out, they are doing so cautiously which means that you have plenty of time to optimise your site for mobile-first indexing.

Wagada Managing Director Cheryl Luzet says, “We’ve been watching and waiting for Google to introduce mobile-first indexing for some time and have been working with our clients to make sure their mobile user experience is up to scratch. I’d definitely advise businesses not to panic though – there is still time to ensure your site is responsive and we’d be happy to chat to anyone who needs help with this.”

At Wagada HQ we’ve had a look at the key elements of mobile-first indexing to help you understand what it is, how it works and what actions you need to take for your website.

How does mobile-first work?

Google already uses its bots to crawl your website looking for data. This helps the search engines to understand what you offer your customers and allows them to decide where to place your site within the search engine rankings. Mobile-first means that Google will now use their algorithms to look at the mobile version of a site rather than the desktop page and it is this that they will use to position you in their index. It will also be used for providing snippets too. Of course you will want to make sure that your mobile site is ideally positioned to rank well when it is indexed by mobile-first so here are some of the main issues that you will need to review.

Content and keywords

As we always say in SEO it’s all about content and this is the same for your mobile site. Google will be looking very closely at your mobile content, so if you have some great information on your desktop site that you want to be ranked for, make sure that it exists on your mobile site too. It could be that you were tempted to leave out key content and keywords in order to make your mobile site more concise but be careful as you don’t want your useful and relevant content to be missed by Google. It is also interesting to note that tabbed content, which was given a lower weighting on a desktop site, will be given an equal weighting on mobile sites – so this could be the ideal time to re-visit that content and see how it could help with your website optimisation.

You may also need to consider whether the keyword strategy that you use for your desktop site is relevant to your mobile site. People can often use different keywords and long-tail keyword phrases when they search via mobile as opposed to on a desktop so it’s vital that these are now built in to your mobile site content.

You should also confirm that the meta-data on your mobile site is up to date. Website owners have often prioritised this for their desktop sites whilst the mobile version may have been overlooked. Due to the fact that content is often condensed on a mobile site it is particularly recommended that your pages are correctly marked up so that Google can fully understand what they offer. It is also important that you include alt tags for all images on your mobile site as these will help with indexing and ranking your site.

Mobile usability

Of course when people are searching on their mobile they are often on the go and they want information quickly without waiting for sites to load or dealing with annoying features such as pop up boxes. Whilst Google has been clear that loading speed won’t take priority over relevance to the customer search, they have confirmed that it will be a key concern in mobile-first and slow loading sites could face negative consequences. Therefore SEO experts recommend that you make it a priority to review your site speed and ensure that it loads quickly and easily for your customers. Failure to do so could lead to your website falling down the rankings when it is indexed by mobile- first.

Internal links and Hreflang links

A strong internal link structure can help Google to crawl your site and this is now relevant for mobile sites too. It is interesting to note that Google has said that the link structure for your mobile site and your desktop site don’t actually need to be the same. This means that it’s not simply a case of replicating links but instead it is worth revisiting and reviewing the structure of your mobile site. You may find that you have fewer links on there so it can be a good idea to add them in and to look out for any missing pages which are not linked to anywhere on your mobile site. Your link structure should be easily accessible to both human users and Google’s bots!

If you have a separate mobile site then you need to make sure that Hreflang links are on your mobile URLS. They should point from mobile to mobile and from desktop to desktop. It is important to note that desktop and mobile sites should be linked separately when using link rel=hreflang.

Will mobile-first work differently for responsive, dynamic and separate mobile sites?

There will be differences between websites and you may need to undertake specific actions to prepare for mobile-first depending on the way that your current website works.

If you have a responsive site you should make sure that no dynamic or separate mobile pages are running as if they are they will be indexed by Google instead of your responsive page. You should also make sure images, JS and CSS are not blocked.

Dynamic site owners should focus on ensuring that valuable desktop content and mark-ups are replicated on your mobile pages. You should also make sure that the user agent being served is getting the correct version of a page and confirm that you are using the vary:user agent HTTP header.

Finally, if you have a separate mobile site then you should be cross referencing that key desktop content is also included in your mobile version. Check that mobile and desktop user agents are led to the correct page version with 301 redirects and maintain your existing links between desktop and mobile pages. You should also make sure that your servers have the capacity to handle the extra crawling from Google.

We’re very excited about mobile-first as it really is taking SEO in a new direction and we know that it definitely makes sense for businesses to prioritise thinking about how their website will cope with these changes. If you take the time now to review your site and make sure that it is fully functional then your site will be well placed to rank highly when mobile-first is rolled out. And if you need some help and support with understanding more about mobile-first and how it relates to your specific website then get in touch with the Wagada HQ team who will be happy to help.