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Google’s mobile first index is coming: How to prepare your website

It’s official: at the recent Pubcon event in Las Vegas, Gary Illyes, a webmaster trends analyst at Google, announced that Google would soon be switching to mobile first indexing of websites. That means that Google will be seeking out and preferentially ranking mobile websites over desktop ones.

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Until now, Google had deferred to desktop-based websites over mobile ones. This occurred even when users were on a mobile device.

Why the mobile first index?

According to comScore’s 2016 US Cross-Platform Future in Focus report, mobile devices now use 65% of digital media time, with mobile apps taking up a good portion of that time. Desktop media time has receded to an all-time low of just 35%.

Due to this development, Google noted early last year that it was working on a mobile index that was completely separate from its desktop index. Then, the search engine mentioned that it would be indexing mobile sites over desktop ones.

That means that webmasters who have not taken the time to create and optimize their mobile website will soon lose out on SEO. It also means that, even if you have a mobile site, getting that site to rank well will require more work than just making it responsive.

Getting mobile-ready, now

How can you prepare for Google’s newest indexing strategy? Here are six tips.

  1. Don’t rely on responsivity.

Having a mobile-friendly website requires more than just making it responsive. However, responsive content is certainly a step in the right direction, and you can easily check using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

Google has created fact-checking tags for content that it indexes on desktop sites; these tags point readers to references and fact-check organizations that either support or discredit stated claims. Currently used tags are labeled as Highly Cited, Opinion, Local Source, and In-Depth.

Google will be rolling out fact-check tags on its mobile website indexing as well. To pass muster with these fact-check tags, your content’s claims should be backed up with references to primary and first-person sources, not gossip or opinion sites.

2. Add content to your mobile pages.

Many website owners have hesitated to create long form content mobile pages, reserving additional text and keywords for desktop content only. However, with Google now giving preference to mobile pages, it’s high time that those pages get updated with the same content as their desktop siblings.

Long form content need not appear clunky on mobile pages. By creating bookmarks and anchor links to relevant areas, you can direct users to those places that logically follow what was just viewed/read. Meanwhile, the entire scope of the content is available for reading enthusiasts.

3. And make sure it’s the correct content.

Some website owners ensure that their desktop website is mobile-friendly by only checking whether it’s actually rendered on mobile devices. What these owners neglect to check is if their mobile websites are providing correct content.

Keep in mind that websites rendered “mobile-friendly” are actually parsed into columns, with the mobile device displaying a single, scrollable column to the viewer. This means that displayed content may differ substantially from actual site content and deem the page irrelevant.

Within the Google Search Console, you can check your website’s content using Fetch and Render. There, you’ll your website’s pages as Google does. You’ll also be able to switch between mobile and desktop versions of your website to view key differences between them.

4. Organize your mobile pages.

Are your mobile pages organized according to a logical structure? In other words, are the pages layered into rational levels such as L1, L2, L3? If you have a mix of pages that only blend into each other without any order or structure, your site will get penalized by Google.

Create a sitemap of your content and go through your pages to understand how they are organized. Add structural pages to those pages that are insufficiently supported. Repurpose extraneous content into novel categories and topics. Also, delete content that bears no resemblance to the main theme of the website.

5. Check your site’s load speed.

Back in 2015, Google adjusted its search algorithm so that faster loading web pages would be preferentially displayed over slower ones. Google also offered Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in its search results area so that users could select sites with faster loading content.

Optimize your content for faster load time by eliminating extremely large images, extraneous ads and code and other clunkers. Then test your site’s load speed with Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

6. Your desktop content will still matter.

Unless you have no desktop website to speak of, your desktop website will still be indexed by Google- so don’t let it fall completely by the wayside. Google’s main focus right now is to launch a rapidly updated mobile index of websites. However, it will still index desktop websites, just not as quickly.

Mobile search is here, so get ready

Mobile websites are growing increasingly popular and are the future of online activity. So, if you haven’t updated your mobile website in a while, now’s the time.

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