As you’ve probably heard by now, Google—after 18 months of testing—has begun slowly rolling out “mobile-first” indexing of websites. What this means, for any content publisher, is that Google will look at the mobile version a website first to analyze your site’s structure and content for indexing and determine which snippets will be used in the listing. In the past, Google has used the desktop version of a website when crawling a site for indexing. At the moment, not every site is a part of this pilot but, according to Google, they are starting with a small number of websites and will be gradually expanding out until it eventually mobile-first indexing will apply to every website.
This makes a lot of sense, actually, given that in 2017, Brightedge reported that 57% of all internet traffic now comes from mobile devices, and we predict that number will increase exponentially in 2018. We all knew the day was coming when mobile traffic would sail past the now obsolete-feeling desktop computer, but now that it’s here, it’s time to formulate an actionable strategy to make sure you’re keeping up with the times.
Keep in mind that mobile-first does not mean that your desktop website will be totally ignored, only that the mobile version will be given priority for indexing when its little Googlebots pay your site a visit. One common misconception is that Google maintains two indices, one for desktop and one for mobile. Not true. And because there is only one index, and that index will analyze your mobile site first, it’s time to get on the mobile optimization bandwagon, if you haven’t already.
Below, we’ve tried to provide a few tools, tactics, and best-practices that will help you put your site on the road to becoming 100% mobile-friendly, and giving it that SEO boost it will need to gain (or sustain) a good search engine ranking.
- Test your current site. The easiest, and most logical, way to get started is to find out just where your site currently stands when it comes to mobile indexing. Fortunately, Google has a tool that can help you do just that. Just type in your website’s URL and Google will provide one of two answers: either your site is mobile-friendly or it’s not. If it’s not, don’t despair—Google will also give you actionable and (hopefully) easy steps you can take to make sure you’re on the right track.
- 86 any hover elements, Flash, and popups. Hover elements are not supported on mobile devices at this time, so if you utilize any on your site, the best bet is to simply remove them. Similarly, not every mobile device is compatible with Flash, so we advise you to use HTML5 whenever possible. Finally, while popups do work on mobile, it’s usually a bad user experience—popup windows often cover the full screen, and it can be difficult to close them. While these features may be essential to your site, it’s strongly recommended that you investigate alternative options to provide your mobile visitors with the best UX you can, while increasing your value to Google, giving you a better mobile-first ranking.
- Optimize your images. Invariably, images with large file sizes will slow down the load times of your site, resulting in a lower mobile-first ranking. To get your site down to the recommended 3-second load time, the total file size of any page should be below 1mb if possible. Ideally, all your images should weigh in at below 200k in size, which you can bump up to 500k for sites that require the highest quality images (a photography website, e.g.)
Check all your images and make sure they are as lean as possible, without sacrificing quality. One online tool you may find useful for accomplishing this is PicResize, which allows you to optimize your images by compressing (maintaining original dimensions), resizing or cropping. Simply upload your images and select the desired method of optimization, preview and download. Of course, you can always accomplish the same thing with commercial tools such as Adobe Photoshop.
- Consider mobile payment methods. If you run an ecommerce or membership site, or any that requires online payment, you may want to consider giving your visitors the option of using a mobile payment method such as Apple Pay or Google Pay. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, traditional checkout interfaces can be clunky for mobile users, often sending your customer from your site to another for payment. The user then must deal with typing all their credit card info into a small screen, which can be frustrating. Also, mobile payment methods tend to be more secure on mobile, shielding your personal information from prying eyes, as well as more devious technological methods of stealing information from your phone.
Of course there are other ways to get started with mobile-first optimization, but hopefully these 5 will get you started. Other methods, more advanced but just as necessary, include minifying your scripts, removing inline styles, and adding expires headers. If you’re not sure what these mean, don’t worry, our mobile-first experts at LLD are happy to lend a hand. We provide optimization services that include a detailed mobile SEO and load time audit and report, as well and our recommendations for improvement. So contact us for a consultation and we’ll get you and your site on the right track.
It’s our guess that mobile-first indexing will be rolled out to the majority of site owners in the near future, so the sooner you get your site optimized the better.