Surrounded as we are by iPhones, Androids, tablets and the like, mobile devices now dominate our lives. Are you aware that they’re about to dominate SEO as well? Yes, 2018 is the year that Google is scheduled to roll out the mobile-first index, meaning the ranking of search results will be based on mobile versions of websites, no matter if the searcher is on a mobile device or a desktop computer.
The move to a mobile-centric index is a natural progression, given how many people now search the Internet via their phones rather than their computers. By December 2017, 52.48 percent of Internet use worldwide was done with a mobile phone, 43.26 percent on a desktop or laptop computer, and only 4.26 percent on a tablet. In India, the numbers are even higher, with over 79 percent of Internet use done using a smartphone.
To adapt to this change, Google is changing its index. This idea is not completely new, however. Google has been easing us into the idea of giving mobile searches a higher priority for a couple of years now. Remember when Mobilegeddon was in the headlines in 2015? That was the start of this move to the mobile.
Mobilegeddon was an algorithm update in April 2015 that gave priority to websites that rendered well on mobile devices. The change didn’t affect searches made on a desktop or laptop computer, and Google said it was primarily to emphasize user experience since many websites designed for viewing on a desktop performed poorly on a smartphone. That was the first step toward a mobile-centric approach, and now it’s time for the next one—the mobile-first index.
Now that 2018 is upon us and the mobile-first index is pending, it’s time for digital marketers to really understand what this change means.
What You Need to Know About Mobile SEO
As more searches happen on mobiles, Google wants its index and results to represent (and work well for) the majority of its users. As a result, there are two things going on here. First, Google’s preference for mobile SEO, and second, the user experience on a mobile device—which will, in turn, have an effect on your mobile SEO.
What does mobile first mean? Mobile first means Google will switch from crawling content with a desktop-centric approach to doing so with a mobile-centric approach.
How Websites Will Rank Moving Forward
The result of this change is quite literally a new index. Before, your mobile site was essentially ranked based on your desktop site. Now, your desktop site will be ranked based on your mobile site. Websites that are not mobile-friendly won’t perform as well, which might have a negative effect on your desktop rankings.
What will Google crawl in order to rank your website? Most likely, the titles, H1 headings, structured data, meta descriptions and of course, the content. Hidden content ties into the user experience on mobiles as well. For the desktop version of a website, Google doesn’t give much weight to hidden content such as accordions and expandable boxes, but it will on mobile devices when the content is hidden in order to improve the user experience. In addition, because we’re talking about mobiles, the speed of your site will also come into play—which ties into the user experience.
How the User Experience Will Affect SEO Moving Forward
By now, you probably realize that how well your website functions for a user matters to Google—a lot. In fact, Google flat out says, “Mobile pages that provide a poor searcher experience can be demoted in rankings or displayed with a warning in mobile search results.”
Google isn’t the only one making that call. Impatient users already click the ‘Back’ button in protest to poor usability, and people are five times more likely to leave a site if it isn’t mobile friendly.
This means that your SEO must take user experience into account, both to please Google and the searcher (which in turn also pleases Google). You still need your keywords and quality content to tell Google that your site should rank well in search results. But now you must look at how well your site renders, the speed at which it loads, and the general usability.
How to Be Ready for Mobile SEO
Not everyone has to start from scratch with mobile SEO. If you’ve done everything else right with your desktop website and have relevant content, that’s an important first step. In addition, a website built with responsive design is probably a website that renders well on a smartphone.
If you do need to make changes, you will find plenty of resources to help you determine the steps to take. Most importantly, Google wants to help, and offers several tools to do so:
- First off, you can simply see if Google considers your website mobile friendly.
- You can also look at page load time statistics to make sure your site loads quickly. This, in turn, affects the user experience.
- If you need to, you can speed up your website with PageSpeed tools.
- Then you can use the Search Console to keep an eye out for any problems that arise that affect mobile usability.
There is much to learn about mobiles, but the depth of knowledge you need depends on your role. If you’re a webmaster who needs to learn more, you can take a deep dive into Google’s recommended best practices for mobile website design. If you’re a digital marketer who needs to master the SEO aspects, you might pursue online learning to ensure your SEO knowledge is all it should be, because that knowledge will still come into play in the world of mobile SEO. Either way, the resources that you need are available.
The increase in mobile searches will only continue to grow, and Google will do what it can to ensure Internet users are finding the information they want in a speedy and efficient manner. Your site just needs to keep up.