Associate Director, SEO

Google’s Mobile-First Update: What It Means for You

By 2017, 75% of U.S. internet users will access the web via mobile device. Over the past few years, Google has responded to the drastic increase in mobile users by encouraging companies to optimize their sites for mobile behavior. This has included a number of algorithm updates such as making it easier to find mobile-friendly webpages and rewarding sites with fast page-load speeds.

In November, the search engine announced that mobile-first indexing is coming within the next few months. According to Google, it will start ranking search listings based on the mobile version of a site, even if the page is being accessed from a desktop. Historically, Google prefers mobile-friendly sites and has often rewarded them. This will not change, but website owners will want to make sure that the mobile version of their site is configured properly to avoid any negative impact.

To prepare, it’s important to understand how your site is currently ranking on mobile and recognize potential areas for improvement prior to the update.

What does this update mean?

Currently, Google evaluates a page’s relevancy by what it will look like on desktop, causing issues for mobile users when certain information may be available on desktop, but doesn’t exist on mobile. Following the mobile-first update, Google’s primary index will look at mobile pages, regardless of device. Here are a few things to expect:

  • Google will only have one site index, and it will be set to prefer mobile pages.
  • Ranking signals will come from the mobile version of a site, not the desktop. This will likely include pagespeed, title tags, <h1> tags, structured data, and content. Google is still testing how this will affect links.
  • Techniques to improve user experience on mobile, such as hidden tabs, accordions, and other methods will carry full weight.
  • Canonical tags to combat duplicate copy will continue to guide users to the correct content.
  • If a mobile site is not available, Google will continue to crawl the desktop version. However, sites that are mobile-optimized will be weighted higher than desktop and will have an easier time ranking in results pages.

What can you do to prepare?
Sites that are already responsive or dynamic do not require special changes at this time. However, if your site is configured with differences between the desktop and mobile versions, it’s time to assess the gaps in your mobile content and understand where you may be penalized.

Track your site’s mobile rankings: While the significance of mobile is nothing new, this update highlights the importance of monitoring mobile rankings and analyzing mobile search engine results.
Monitor the differences between your desktop and mobile rankings: Sites with large gaps skewed to favor desktop will likely be pushed down in search results.

Consider Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs): AMPs increase page speed, mobile friendliness, and overall performance, which are all metrics that Google emphasizes.

Analyze the content on your mobile and desktop sites: Especially with “m.” sites, if desktop and mobile pages do not align, you may see ranking and traffic decreases due to the new index.

If developing a new mobile site, ensure it is complete before launching: Wait to launch new mobile sites until they are complete. Having a fully functioning desktop site is better for rankings than a mobile one that is not implemented correctly.

When will the update take place?
While Google has not disclosed a specific date for when the update will go into effect, it’s already begun experimenting with the changes. Once Google is happy with the user experience, it will implement the update more broadly. It’s likely that the update will be fully implemented early next year.

At Rise, our customer experience experts approach website development with a mobile-first mindset. If you are wondering how your site will specifically be impacted, or how you can better prepare for this update and provide a better customer experience, reach out to Rise.

12/08/2016 at 03:11