What is Mobile-First Indexing & How Does it Affect SEO?

Mobile-First IndexingYou’ve been working hard to create a high-ranking site for your brand, but the SEO world moves fast and trends can change in the blink of an eye. Maybe you’re confused by a term you’ve heard a lot in passing lately: mobile-first indexing. Wondering what it is and how it could impact your work? Don’t worry: here’s a handy primer that will help you adjust to this important new development.

A Paradigm Shift to Accommodate Users

As you probably know already, Google (and other search engines) rank websites according to specific criteria. They do this by crawling each page and assessing its relevance to different keywords a user might search. They also factor in the way the page is designed: how fast it loads, how content is formatted, and how informative or accessible the content is.

It’s all done with the user’s experience in mind. Put simply: Google’s the best search engine out there because it puts the most work into showing users results that will provide them with value whenever they search for something. However, if you work in SEO that means you have a responsibility to make sure your site is always valuable to your potential visitors.

Here’s where the mobile-first part comes in: Google is pretty sensitive to the behavior of its users—so when users change their behavior, Google adapts. For instance: a decade or so ago, most people accessed the internet through a desktop instead of a mobile device. This year, mobile usage accounts for 52% of worldwide internet access, and the number is growing. In response, Google has reduced the priority of ranking sites designed for desktops and refocused its efforts on pages optimized for mobile users.

Think of it like a college professor who has suddenly decided to give extra weight to the multiple choice section of your upcoming midterm instead of the written component.

Breaking Down the Difference: Desktop-First vs. Mobile-First

Google’s old approach (let’s call it “desktop-first”) worked like this:

  • Google crawled the desktop version of your site first
  • Google used the desktop version to determine your site’s ranking
  • Google used any mobile version of your site that existed to give your rankings a “boost”

The new approach—mobile-first indexing—works more like this:

  • Google crawls the mobile version of your site
  • Google uses the mobile version to determine rankings for both your desktop and mobile sites
  • Google only factors in your desktop site at all if there is no version of your mobile site (but not having a mobile version of your site is a really good way to significantly decrease in your search rankings, so we  recommend always optimizing your site for mobile)

How to Buff Up Your Mobile Site

Now that you understand the importance of your mobile site, you’re probably wondering how to improve it. Start with the following:

  1. Make sure all images and videos are in mobile-friendly formats, so that they will load (and load quickly) for users.
  2. Make sure your mobile site has all the information your desktop site has—but consider rewriting the copy to make it more concise. Mobile users have very limited attention spans.
  3. Condense lengthy passages or lists into tabs and drop-down menus. Google didn’t crawl these areas under desktop-first, but mobile-first indexing factors in the limited amount of screen space on mobile devices.
  4. Make sure your mobile app is as up to date as your mobile website! Installing Google Analytics on your app can give you valuable stats about where it’s working and where it needs to be improved. You can save yourself a lot of time writing the necessary code by using a third-party implementation service for the requisite software development kit.
  5. Include the same structured data and metadata you’re using for your desktop site—Google crawls more than just the text that users see when they visit your page.
  6. Use geotags! Mobile users are usually on the go from one place to another, so putting location data in your mobile site can give your rankings a boost for people who are close to you.
  7. Increase your server capacity to handle the higher crawl rate.

Have No Fear—Persevere!

Mobile-first indexing can seem like a real game-changer, but it shouldn’t be too hard to adapt your existing SEO strategy. Use this article as a jumping-off point and stay up to date as further changes come down the pike.