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15 Jan '19

Building a better website has become more challenging through the years, and crafting one that search engines like is even tougher. As search engine optimization tactics have come and gone, different industry developments have had a huge impact on where our profession is focused today. The term “mobile-first indexing” has now been at the forefront of SEO minds for years, and the effects of its implementation through Google continue to make waves in the search landscape. But what is mobile-first indexing, and why is it so important?

Why should I care about mobile?

More internet users are on phones than ever before. There are now over 1.2 billion mobile users of the internet across the world, and mobile internet usage now trumps desktop usage throughout the year. More smartphones are being sold and equipped with the ability to access the internet, with more than 85 percent boasting internet access. The search optimization industry is shifting focus to deliver a better overall user experience to mobile users as they are and will continue to comprise most of the traffic to today’s websites. Mobile-first indexing is Google’s way of delivering that online experience to its users, which is why it is being adopted and implemented by SEOs across the board.

So how does it work?

Mobile-first indexing essentially describes the way that Googlebot look at your website when indexing for search results. Google will look at your website and crawl the mobile version first. If the bots hit your site and can’t find a mobile version, they will then crawl the desktop version instead. The crawl data is then used to determine rankings for mobile AND desktop, regardless of which source it came from. Previously with desktop-first indexing, Google would crawl your site’s desktop version first and boost your mobile rank if it found a mobile version of the site. This being said, however, your mobile site is considered the primary version of your site. And if Google can’t find a mobile version of your site, it will consider how your desktop build translates to a smaller screen. If you’ve implemented a mobile site that’s identical in form and functionality to your desktop version, there should be no impactful changes to your site’s ranking performance. What makes this difficult though is many sites were built for desktop with more content, data, links, and overall comprehensiveness that where either dropped when building its mobile counterpart or only exist in a desktop iteration.

How should I build my website?

Usability is key. This is what Google is looking for in crawls when it hits a website, and with mobile-first indexing, the crawler bots will be assessing the quality of your mobile site. Keep in mind that if you don’t have a mobile site, Google will consider how your desktop version translates to the smaller screens of mobile devices. This means that bots will be looking for mobile-friendly design elements like easy to use navigation, above-the-fold content, and clearly presented content as well as sound functionality. If a user reaches your site and they can’t use it on their device of choice, they’re going to leave (simple as that). Googlebot will see this, and your website’s ranking will be affected accordingly. You want to make sure that as many users as possible are able to successfully reach and interact with your site, as well as its features. Two important elements of strong websites today are responsive aspects and responsive page design, both of which can help you build a mobile-friendly website.

What are those?

Progressive images and aspects of your website start with everything they need at the mobile level, and they scale up to suit larger displays like tablets and desktops. Not only is this something that bots are looking for during a crawl, but they are helpful to building a healthy website across devices. Having elements that progressively enhance with screen size are friendlier to both parties, as you don’t have to worry about building something amazing for desktop that will ultimately fail or crash when scaling down to mobile screens. Utilizing a responsive website is another way to help your standing with crawler bots as it presents a website that adapts to the user’s screen size. A responsive website ensures that your images and page elements are not stretched or clumped together when adjusting to smaller or larger screens, encouraging a better user experience and overall usability.

I’ve made some changes. How do I know if they worked?

A lot goes into making a website that can perform well in a mobile-first index, but there are tools to monitor your progress to creating a better site. Google’s mobile-friendly test is a great way to get a snapshot of where your site can improve, quickly giving you areas to optimize and other recommendations for the front and back end of website. The test will give you details on how to fix issues and what they will ultimately affect for you and your users. Building a mobile-friendly website can be tough, but it is a surefire way to help your search performance. Google has been steadily rolling out mobile-first indexing across the industry, so make sure that you don’t fall behind the curve because of a neglected mobile presence. Contact the team of industry experts at Forthea today to see how we can help you build a website that performs well in a mobile-first index for your business.

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About the Author Sean

When he’s not in the office, you can usually find Sean with his identical twin brother enjoying the finer things of life like video games and Asian food. As a compliment to his obviously very healthy lifestyle choices, he still savors trips to the park and a good dose of the great outdoors.

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