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The Dawn of the Google Mobile First Update

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We all suspect that mobile phones are taking over the world. But do you know just how big the mobile movement really is? A few stats that Neil Patel has gathered:

There were close to 150 billion mobile app downloads worldwide in 2016. If this trend persists, statistics predict that in 2021 the mobile app downloads will be over 350 billion. BrightEdge reported recently that their web traffic was 57% mobile generated, versus the traditional desktop computer generated traffic.

What Is the Google Mobile First Update Impact On SEO?

The mobile usage trend is huge. So, it’s no surprise that Google has finally implemented the mobile-first search index criteria. There has been rumours about it for a while now. You might wonder why this is something to take notice of.

The Google Webmasters blog shed some light on how this will affect your website. The Google algorithms will systematically work towards eventually using only the mobile version of your website’s content to rank pages, evaluate structured data, and to display page snippets in the search results. Google’s search index will remain a single index of both websites and apps, but soon the mobile movement will completely take over.

These changes can either help or hinder you. If your website is not currently mobile-friendly, any attempts at a good SEO strategy will be futile. But if you respond swiftly to the algorithm updates, you can beat out the competitors in your industry that are lagging behind.

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When Will the Google Mobile First Update Be Implement?

Unfortunately, Google is currently keeping everyone in the dark, not committing to a specific date. Gary Illyes mentioned at the March 2017 SMX West conference that it would happen as soon as Google views results as “quality-neutral”. They are monitoring the search results to remain close to a status-quo level, or a little above it.

Luckily there are a few basic steps that you can follow to ensure that your website survives the Google mobile first update. Firstly, let’s look at what exactly mobile-first indexing is. Till recently Google used only a desktop-oriented page ranking method.

Related: desktop indexing vs. mobile indexing

Back in the day, everybody used desktops to conduct searches. Desktops won’t disappear any time soon, but Google knows that it must pay attention to the mobile movement. Mobile traffic will constantly keep increasing.

The ranking requirements vary between desktop and mobile, but the indexing system remains the same. What it does mean, is that Google will be using your website’s mobile version as the primary means of ranking. Your desktop site version won’t be completely ignored, but Google will focus first on the mobile site.

Guide to The Google Mobile First Update

In the end, the main aim of the Google mobile first update, is to provide users with the most relevant and accurate search results, regardless of the device used for the search. Quite a few years ago mobile users exceeded desktop users, but desktops are not yet completely out of the running. The mobile movement does not point to a mobile-only shift, only a steady increase in mobile usage.

This increase offers you a great opportunity to tap into a different online market. Research shows that 78% of internet users have discovered a new business they were unaware of when browsing on their phone.

The Google mobile first update does not mean that Google will completely disregard desktop searchers. You need to keep both your desktop and mobile site up to date. This change will not be drastic, it simply means that Google is taking the mobile movement into consideration when determining site and page ranking. If your site is genuinely relevant to search criteria, Google will rank you near the top, regardless of where the search request is coming from.

For instance, if the search criteria were “best five star hotel in Cape Town” and you are one of the most prominent hotels in town, you will appear at the top whether someone is searching from their desktop computer or Smartphone.

Follow the Google Mobile First Update Rules

The trick is to make sure that whether the searcher is landing on your desktop or mobile site, they are still having an effective browsing experience. If your mobile version would frustrate even a five-year-old trying to navigate around your website, Google will start penalising you.

Google doesn’t like ranking sites that are frustrating to use. You don’t have to go overboard and completely redirect your SEO strategy, but it’s important to have an optimised mobile site. One of the most important reasons, is to ensure your competitors don’t outrank you.

Tip: use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure your data is optimised for Google to index your website correctly.

Step One: Test Your Mobile Site

Before you start making changes, determine the current mobile-friendly rating of your website. Google has set up a test to assess the quality of your site. Go to search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly.

It’s very simple to use, simply enter the URL you want to test and click “Run test”. The system will analyse your website. The results will offer you feedback about your website. If there are any existing problems, it will be clearly listed for you to investigate the issues. Click on the “Page loading issues” link at the top for a more detailed explanation of errors that were detected. You can also view more tips on the “Fix your WordPress page” link.

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One of the most important elements to keep in mind with a mobile version, is how the user will engage with your content. Make sure that it loads quickly, and that the navigation is very simple to follow.

Related: basic checklist for a good mobile site

Step Two: Check your Content

If your site is listed on an “m” subdomain or if the mobile version uses adaptive/dynamic serving for content sending. The tricky part with a mobile website is that there are a few display limitations. You need to prioritize the most important elements, keeping the user’s experience of your website in mind.

This includes both text and visual elements. Ask yourself with each element how it fits into the visitor’s interaction with your company. Rather stick to the bare basics, than adding too much clutter that could be confusing.

Try doing a few random Google searches on your phone, click through to the websites, and take note of your first impression of the site’s mobile version. What did you enjoy about engaging with the content and what frustrated you?

Step Three: Check Site Responsiveness

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Designing for a desktop experience is very different to mobile. Firstly, when browsing on your desktop computer, the little mouse cursor is doing all the clicking work for you. On the mobile version, you need to design for easy finger touch.

By focusing on creating good “tap targets”, you will ensure that users will not become frustrated with engaging with your site. For most of the browsers 16px is the best default font size. For design elements, it is advisable to have at least 44 pixels of whitespace around a clickable element.

Together with the actual design, another important element is loading time. Users will simply click back to the search results page if your site loads too slow. Research shows that 53% of users will click the back button if the page takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

Telephone numbers need to be in the correct format to be tappable. If a user needs to copy and paste a number to get hold of you, chances are you’ve already lost the potential lead. Same principle for your email address.

Tip: activated browser caching for user convenience

If you want to create an advance mobile site experience, use a site builder that will detect the device from which the user is browsing. This way your site will be automatically adjusted to display in an optimised format.

Step Four: Streamline the Coding

The speedier the mobile site, the better. There’s a few coding tricks you can use to make sure that your mobile version responds quickly, and the navigation is efficient. Try to decrease the HTTP requests as much as possible. You can achieve this by reducing images, or completely removing them if they are redundant to the browsing experience.

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The next tweak won’t increase the speed of your mobile site, but it will increase the chances of searchers clicking through to your website. Also, on a Smartphone there’s less space for the meta titles and page descriptions. So, choose your words carefully.

Also, make sure your social metadata has been optimised to entice people to click on the link when someone shares your content on a social media platform. Each platform has its own system for creating engaging links to share. From Twitter Cards, to Pinterest Rich Pins – invest time in creating correct meta tags to entice people to share your content. Or you can use the Open Graph meta tags across all platforms.

Related: how to create effective social meta tags

Check that your media sitemaps and XML are set up correctly. Also pay attention to your linking structure. Finally, consider using the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) plugin. It’s a separate format, used by Google to cache your site, increasing the page loading speed. It won’t affect the search ranking of your website. But as mentioned before, it’s crucial for a mobile site to be extremely responsive, ensuring a good user experience.

Let Storyteller Design Help You Optimise Your Mobile Site

The Google mobile first update is a huge shift in the way that websites will be ranked from now on. There’s no denying that the mobile movement will only grow stronger. A mobile-friendly site is extremely important if you don’t want to be left behind with the mobile movement.

If your head is spinning from all the information in this post, not to fear. As a Cape Town SEO company, Storyteller Design we make it our mission to stay on top of the latest trends. We can assist you to tweak your existing website to adhere to the Google mobile first update criteria.

Take our SEO help survey now to give us a better idea of the health of your website.

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