Google has pushed back its indexing update, in light of the current circumstances the world finds itself in, to March 2021.
Originally planned for launch in September 2020, the update will see mobile-first sites prioritised when it comes to ranking and indexing. We’ve spoken with our SEO team to find out what is in the update, what it means for your business and how to prepare for it.
Read on to find out about Google’s mobile-first indexing update and what it means for you…
What is mobile-first indexing?
Mobile-first indexing means Google will use the mobile version of a website’s content for web ranking.
Historically, Google has primarily used the desktop version – your PC or laptop – of a webpage’s content when evaluating the relevance of a site or page to a user’s search query. Since the majority of us as users now access Google Search with a mobile device – your smartphone or tablet – Google will primarily crawl and index pages that are mobile-first.
What is this Google Update?
Google has been moving over to mobile-first indexing mobile-first indexing for years now. However, it only ever moved sites over to mobile-first indexing if they were ready for it.
This is no longer the case.
Google then announced that they’d be moving all sites over to mobile-first in September 2020, ready or not. As of March 2020, 70% of websites shown in Google’s search results had already shifted over. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Google has decided to delay the complete shift to mobile-first indexing to March of next year.
Pages being mobile-friendly was noted by our SEO team member, Jon Blakemore, when discussing most important Google ranking factors.
“Arguably the most notable are their updates in 2018 around site speed being a ranking factor and the rollout of mobile-first indexing.
“While both site speed and mobile responsiveness have been at the forefront of SEO prior to these updates, they have helped to cement the importance of both when trying to optimise a site.”
Prioritising your site for mobile and then desktop means a site doesn’t have to be optimised for speed once you’ve launched. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, this is something you will need to address.
If you don’t have a mobile website, it’s broken or incomplete, your desktop site will see a drop in ranking. Conversely, if your mobile site is functional, your desktop website will see a boost in ranking.
Why has this update happened?
Simply put, we all use mobile devices much more than desktop when it comes to browsing the internet.
It reflects how the web has evolved from desktop to mobile in a few years. Also, it shows how webmasters have helped to enable crawling and indexing to match how users interact with the web in the 21st century. Technology updates move with user intent when it comes to SEO and online, and this is the next step for Google.
How can I be mobile-first ready?
To make sure your site is mobile-friendly or mobile-first, there are best practices that you can follow to ensure your desktop site doesn’t slip in rankings.
Ensure primary content is the same on each site
If your mobile page has less content than your desktop, you should consider updating your mobile version so that its primary content is the same. This is because only the content shown on the mobile version will be used for indexing and ranking.
If you have purposefully made the mobile site have less content than the desktop, your website may lose traffic when mobile-first indexing comes into effect. This is because Google won’t be able to get full information anymore.
You will need to use the same clear headings and sub-headings on your mobile version as on the desktop page. Missing or removing headings may negatively impact your page’s visibility in Google Search. This will be because Google may not be able to fully understand your page.
Check Your Visual Media
Make sure that the media – images and video – on your mobile site follow best practices. You need to provide high-quality images. Make sure that you don’t use images that are too small or have a low resolution. They might not be selected for inclusion in Google Images, or shown as favourably when indexed in Search.
You will also need to use the same mage URLs for mobile and desktop versions of your site. If not, you may see a temporary traffic loss from Google Images while moving to mobile-first indexing. This will happen because the image URLs on the mobile version are new to the indexing system, and it takes some time for them to be understood appropriately.
The same can be said for your videos – always use the same URLs for video content on your mobile and desktop websites. Google won’t be able to process and index your videos properly if you use changing URLs for each site version.
For videos and images, make sure that you place them in an easy-to-find position on the mobile page. The site or video’s ranking may suffer if users have to scroll too far down a page to find the video. This will directly affect user experience on mobile devices, which negatively impact SEO rankings. Consider how ads will impact media placement, too.
Make Sure Google Can Access & See Your Content
For mobile-first indexing, Google will only use the information from the mobile version of your site, so make sure your full content and all resources can be seen.
You will need to use the same meta tags on the mobile version as you do on the desktop site. If you use different meta tags, Google may fail to crawl and index your mobile page when your site is fully enabled for mobile-first indexing. That will lead to a drop in rankings for your desktop site.
Lazy-loading is more commonplace on mobile sites when compared to desktop, particularly for images and videos. You should avoid lazy-loading your primary content that is based on user interactions, such as clicking or typing. This is because Google won’t initiate these user interactions.
Finally, let Google crawl your resources as some will have different URLs on the mobile site compared with those on your desktop site. If you want Google to crawl your URLs, make sure that you’re not blocking the URL with the disallow directive. Doing so can harm the ranking of your pages in Search, for pages or images.
Summary: Why is this Update Important for Me?
Here’s Jon Blakemore to explain: “Mobile-first indexing simply means the mobile version of your website becomes the standard for what Google uses to index your site and determine how it ranks. Make sure your whole site is optimised and responsive on mobile, loads quickly, and maintains as much as possible from the desktop version of your site.”
Learn more about our marketing successes with our case studies.
If your business is ready for the next level of its growth and you’d like to speak to one of our marketing experts for a no-obligation chat, then get in touch today.