Preparing your website for Google's mobile-first indexing

Preparing your website for Google's mobile-first indexing

2BInteractive | April 19, 2017

As we all know, more and more people are searching on Google using mobile phones, tablets, and other similar mobile devices.  In Australia alone, smartphone ownership has increased from 11.1 million in 2013 to 15.3 million in mid-2015 according to a study conducted by IAB Australia. The same study claimed that of the total time spent on devices, 63 percent is spent on smartphone and tablet usage.

Adapting to the changing landscape, mobile first indexing came into being – a move that that could significantly affect a website’s rankings.  This means that a Google mobile search will focus on ranking pages based on the mobile version of a website. If you do not have a mobile version of your site or if your site’s mobile version’s content is lacking and not as relevant as the desktop version, then your search rankings will suffer.

Google, in its blog, stressed that:

“Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we're going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.”

Despite being it its pilot stage, the mobile-first indexing has created enough buzz to have webmasters preparing for when it officially becomes effective.  If you are more marketing focused you need to talk to your development team about ensuring your site is at a minimum, responsive.

If you are technically inclined, here are some of the things that you can do in preparation for a shift to a search index that is mobile-user centric.

Ensure that your website has a responsive design

Google has long advocated for Responsive Web Design, a configuration that allows the server to send the same code to all devices available for browsing. This means that whether an individual is using a desktop, a tablet, or a phone, the style sheet used to format the layout of Web pages will automatically adjust the site’s interface to best match the existing screen size, thereby offering the best user experience.

Ensure that Google can see your mobile pages

It is all good and well to make your site responsive, but it is important that you provide users the optimal experience. Unless your site is built from the ground up to be mobile friendly, the quick and easiest way in the past to make your site responsive was to simply ‘hide’ complex page layouts on mobiles. The problem is that Google has said it will be utilising the mobile version to build its index. If you have content on your site which is hidden on a mobile, Google will not include it.

On a positive note, unlike desktop sites whereby Google has previously said ‘that content hidden in tabs, accordions, expandable boxes and other methods would not be weighted as high’, in the case of mobiles, Google has said ‘content like this will be given full weight if done for user experience purposes’.

A good place to start is the Google Search Console. By registering your site to the Google Webmaster Tools, you can access a range of important SEO functions, one of which is the Fetch and Render Tool.

Under this tool, a robot is sent to your site or a specific web page. From there, you can tell which platform to fetch it for, whether mobile or desktop. Don’t forget to select mobile:smartphone in the tool’s user-agent field to make sure that the rendered results show the index from your mobile site. If content is missing, then you should look into how to fix that and run the tool again.

Ensure your robots.txt file is designed to allow Google web crawlers to access your mobile-friendly site

Even if your site is already responsive, it is important to test your robots.txt file to make sure that it hasn’t blocked robot access to your site’s CSS, JavaScript, and images. Remember that for Google’s algorithm to recognise a responsive site, it should be able to crawl your entire website freely.

You can use various robots.txt testers online but the Google Webmasters Robots Testing Tool is a personal favourite.

When Will Mobile-First Index Be Fully Implemented?  

Google is still in its experimental stage in terms of mobile-first indexing and whilst the SEO community has predicted that the change will be rolled out at the end of 2017, Google’s Gary Illyes informed the public that the most realistic time for the launch would be 2018. This, he confirmed on April 5, 2017, during the recent Next10x Conference in Boston.

SEO tactics are always changing due to algorithms being constantly updated but at least this time we have warning, so we have no excuses for not being ready. If you have any comments, share them below or contact us if you have any direct questions.

TAGS: Digital