The search engine optimization world is about to change in a big way. For most of us deep in the industry, this comes as no surprise. It has been known for quite some time that Google was planning to roll out their so-called “mobile-first” index. There has been a great deal of speculation about exactly how the mobile-first index would be structured and how it would impact search engine rankings.
For the past few years, Google has pushed website owners to focus on security and mobile accessibility of website content, and has publically stated that both would be important to the future of website rankings. With mobile usage having surpassed desktop usage on many websites, it only makes sense to organize the web’s content mobile-first.
Should I panic?
Don’t panic just yet. Google has just started rolling out its mobile-first crawler. It will take months before a full implementation is complete. At this time, Google has not provided a date as to when the rollout will be complete. Google developers are currently in the midst of resolving a testing phase bug, and have indicated that the mobile-first index will roll out to more and more searches as the company gains confidence that the mobile user agent crawl is working well.
What if I don’t have a mobile site?
The best way to prepare for the mobile-first index would be with a well-designed, responsive website. A responsive website is one that automatically adapts to the size of the screen the user is using. This is the most widely accepted method for providing mobile support and a great way to optimize for both the Google desktop and mobile index, as the content on your website will be similar in both instances.
If you have a separate mobile website that is different from your desktop, you may want to consider updating to a responsive designed website. While not immediately necessary, as the mobile index becomes the primary indexing (and possibly in the future the only index), separate mobile websites will present a problem because they may have different or less content than your desktop version.
If you are unsure if your site has a mobile version at all, Google has a handy testing tool that will help you tell if you do have a mobile version. You can find this tool at https://search.google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly. It is important to note that just because this tool indicates that you are mobile friendly, it does not mean your website is optimized to rank in the mobile-first index.
Will this significantly change how my site ranks?
Not immediately. Paul Haahr, a Google rankings expert, has stated that mobile-first indexing shouldn’t result in significant short-term changes in rankings. It is too early to tell exactly how this will impact rankings, but speculation from search engine experts is that over the long-term, websites that do not provide a mobile version should not expect to rank well for certain keywords.
What should I do today to prepare?
If you don’t already have a mobile-friendly website, incorporate one into your 2017 marketing plan. By this time next year, it is likely that the mobile-first index will be impacting search results to a greater degree. It is also likely that more than 50% of all of your website traffic is from users on mobile devices, so by not providing a mobile version you’re slamming your door in their face.
If you do have a mobile website, begin thinking about your plan for mobile-first SEO. It is not yet time to abandon desktop SEO, but there are differences to what the mobile index can see as opposed to the desktop. Make sure your mobile version contains your key content and that your key content is indexable by the mobile-first spider.
Regardless, we recommend talking with an online marketing expert that can help your business use this change as an opportunity to move ahead of your competition.