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Google's Mobile-First Index is here! Are you prepared?

By Simon Belfield
on 5/4/18

Google recently announced that it has started to roll out mobile-first indexing following an initial testing phase. 

The announcement signals a change in focus from testing to live rollout, with this being the first time Google has confirmed that it is moving a larger number of sites over. Any sites that have been moved to the mobile-first index will be notified via Search Console with the following message:

01 - Mobile first image

 

With the gears being shifted on the mobile-first rollout, should it be panic stations for anyone who doesn’t have a responsive site? Before we get into what you can do, or what questions need to be answered, let’s understand what the mobile-first index is and what Google is trying to achieve.

Understanding what the mobile-first index is

For a lot of people, the mobile-first index can be confusing. Here’s a quick summary of what Google is trying to achieve.

Mobile users now account for over 50% of search activity on the web. With this number continuing to grow, Google is adapting how it indexes a website to accommodate for the major of users, who primarily search on mobile.

Previously, GoogleBot would crawl your website and assign rankings and value based on the desktop version of your website.

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With the mobile-first index, your website will be ranked and categorised based on the mobile version instead.

Will I lose my visibility and rankings? 

Google has announced that it doesn’t expect to see major ranking changes from the switch to mobile-first. However, if we look at this logically, if your content (and potentially your site structure) is different on your desktop compared to mobile, there may be potential for your site to be categorised differently and therefore be ranked differently.

A big focus for Google has been on providing users with the best mobile experience. If the desktop version of your website ticks that box, but your mobile site has been neglected, the move over to mobile-first may be a scarier proposition than it is for sites that employ responsive designs.

I don’t have a mobile version of my site – what’s going to happen?

In 2018, there should be no websites of any substance that don’t have a mobile alternative to their desktop site. If you do, you should give your head a major wobble for ignoring over 50% of search users!

However, on the off chance that you don’t have a mobile version of your website, Google has said that it will index your desktop version. But if that desktop version doesn’t translate well to mobile users, you’re walking a very fine line.

The majority of my conversions come through desktop, what’s going to happen to them now?

Although your conversions may be attributed to desktop, that doesn’t necessarily paint a full picture. A user’s journey is much more complicated than just one device, and it’s not always the case that one channel leads to one conversion. Digital channels and devices play much more complex roles in the path to purchase these days.

For example, a user may interact with your site initially on a mobile device whilst they have a small amount of downtime, and then wait until they are home and convert on a tablet or desktop. Cross-device and cross channel attribution can help uncover the mystery. If the majority of users’ first interactions with your site are via mobile, then you need to make sure you connect and meet their initial needs to have a chance of them converting further down the funnel, regardless of what device they end on. Without that initial connection, the chance of conversion shrinks.

What can I do to mitigate any potential damage?

Although Google has made efforts to minimise potential damage, there’s no harm in being prepared for the worst. With that in mind, below are the steps you should take in order to be as prepared as possible:

  1. Go responsive  
    The best way to mitigate any potential losses is to move over to a responsive web design as soon as possible. This way, all the content and structure of your desktop site remains accessible for mobile users.
  1. Check for issues on your mobile site
    If moving to a responsive design isn’t feasible, you need to focus on issues with your mobile site. Is the main content from your desktop version available on mobile? Is the structure the same?
  1. Analyse user behaviour 
    Are bounce rates much higher on your mobile site? Are people spending less time on your site via mobile? If you’re seeing poor engagement, then you need to start analysing the pain points and resolving them
  1. Check Search Console 
    Is it reporting mobile usability issues? Make sure you resolve them and clean up any errors.

  2. Put mobile users at the forefront of your mind
    Focus on what their journey is. The journey of a mobile user is often short bursts of activity. Micro-moments dictate how they behave on the web. Make sure you understand what your mobile users are trying to achieve and tailor your content and messaging to meet that immediate need. Put the content that is most poignant to your mobile users at the forefront.

Need to get your site mobile-first ready, but not sure where to begin? Don’t panic – our organic team are on hand to help make sure your site is optimised for mobile users. To find out more, get in touch with us today.

 

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