As most of you have heard, more websites have been moved over to mobile-first indexing based on Google’s perception of your website’s “readiness.” With the majority of online searches coming from mobile, Google wants to make sure that when people are reading articles or content online, those pages are optimized for mobile to help users find the information they are looking for while providing the best user experience on site. So what exactly is changing?
The main change is the way web content is gathered and not necessarily the way web content is ranked. There will not be a separate index for mobile, instead, there will continue to be one index for search results that prioritizes mobile web pages. Keep in mind, if you don’t have a mobile version of your website, there will be no changes unless you want to make your website responsive for mobile devices, via responsive web design, or create a separate mobile version. Ranking penalization for websites without a mobile version has been in play since 2015. But don’t worry, your desktop site will not be penalized with this mobile-first indexing change.
Once your website is ready for the transition, Google will notify you through Search Console and will automatically add an annotation so you can see when your site rolled over. If your website is already optimized for mobile search, then it’s only a matter of time until you get your alert. But what about those who aren’t quite ready? What is Google looking for in terms of mobile optimization?
Mobile-First Best Practices for Responsive Websites
Here’s what Google will be looking for when transitioning responsive sites into the new index.
If you have a responsive mobile version of your desktop website, you’re almost there! Focus on things that will ensure the mobile experience is fully optimized for the user and bots. This includes:
1. Making your website easy for users to navigate and making it easy for them to convert on your site.
2. Checking meta viewport tags will also be important. The viewport tag will give direction on how to control page dimensions and scaling. You want to make sure your website renders for different ratios and ensuring breakpoints are smooth.
3. Optimizing your image and video dimensions and keeping resources crawlable. If Googlebots don’t have access to your resources, it may not display your images or videos on mobile and flag it as “not mobile-friendly.” Other things to focus on include, site speed, load times, tap targets, text size, etc.
What if I have a separate mobile site?
If you have a mobile version of your desktop site with a different URL, you’ll have to make sure that elements from your mobile site match your desktop version. You should have all the same content, markup, and metadata if you want to keep your rank position in search. You also want to make sure that both versions of the site are verified in Search Console to keep track of any errors or alerts.
But, wouldn’t that be considered duplicate content? Actually, the answer to that is “no.” If you have the proper annotations and redirects (bidirectional or automatic) on both of your sites, it will not be considered duplicate content. The annotations help Google algorithms understand the connection between the mobile and desktop versions of your site. It lets them know that the URLs have the same content but in different formats and should be considered as one entity.
If you’re responsive website still needs some optimization tweaks, don’t worry. You still have time until Google rolls everyone over, which can take some time. If you don’t have a responsive website or a mobile version of your desktop site, prioritizing your content to be informational and helpful to readers will be your ticket to maintaining your relevancy within the search results. Google won’t necessarily drop your site in the rankings and if your content is still the most relevant for a certain search query, your content could still show up over other mobile-optimized content.
Remember, when your site is ready for the transitions, Google will notify you in Search Console. Once you are rolled over, don’t forget to add an annotation in Google Analytics so you can compare traffic data before and after your site has been rolled out to mobile-first indexing. In the meantime, if you have a great desktop version then it will work just fine until you get your site to where you want it to be—mobile ready!