Given the knowledge that over 50% of Google searches are performed on a mobile device (closer to 60%), marketers must shift their thinking to a mobile-first strategy. While it has been of much discussion since 2015, with Google’s proverbial Mobilegeddon update, it goes with out stating many websites today still do not render properly on a mobile device. And while we’re not often ones to speculate too far in advance, we can probably all call “mobile-first strategy” the marketing buzzword of 2017.

Recently Google went public with the news that it would be moving forward with its mobile-first index. A much larger cause for concern in the SEO world then the original quest for a mobile-friendly web back in 2015.

“We understand this is an important shift in our indexing and it’s one we take seriously. We’ll continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale and we’ll ramp up this change when we’re confident that we have a great user experience.”

It’s hard for many to imagine that in 2017 we are having frank discussions regarding whether a site is mobile-friendly or not. Understandable that for some large, enterprise size sites, this is not an easy task to take on. A well crafted mobile user experience at any scale can take time. Considering your customer’s first experience with your brand could be on a mobile device, it’s best to make a good impression.

What Is Google’s Mobile-First Index?

Google shifting toward a mobile-first index is the result of an increased volume of mobile searches taking place. While both desktop and mobile versions of sites have been crawled and indexable, Google was building its index off of ranking factors related to desktop pages. Meaning, while a user could be searching on their phone, the results of the index served up in the search engine results pages (SERPs) are from desktop pages. This typically will lead to a less than ideal experience for the user.

How Will Mobile-First Index Affect Your Site?

In the interim, probably not much. While representatives from Google have made statements this changes will not disrupt the rankings in a major way, it is still very early to tell. Google is still very early in their rollout and it is anticipated these changes will take a few months to take shape. Now is the time to take action.

If your site is already responsive then in short, you will be fine. If you are operating a separate mobile-version of your site, then it’s cause for concern.

Also keep in mind that prior to this shift, Google had started to experiment with two indexes, one for mobile and one for desktop. With the notion being mobile was the primary, desktop the secondary and not as up-to-date.

Lisa Barone Tweet on Mobile Index

How Can I Prepare My Site for Google’s Mobile-First Index?

Given the direction that Google is headed with its mobile-firs index, you’re probably wondering what, if anything, do I need to do to my site to ensure its safety in a post-desktop world?

First and foremost if you are unsure of your site’s mobile-friendliness, use Google’s Mobile Test Tool to see how friendly it is and what areas you need to improve.

BlackTruck Media Mobile-First Index Test

Responsive Websites and Mobile-First Index

For responsive websites, meaning sites that the design scales across all device types, there isn’t much you should be concerned about immediately. But lets not get complacent as there’s always room for improvement.

  • Look for areas the site’s performance can be improved.
  • Work on decreasing page-load times and speeding up the site.
  • Consider your markup language is relevant to the page/content, but keep it light and don’t overload it.
  • Tabbed and accordion content IS weighted the same even though it’s not viewed 100% of the time. This goes against what we have always preached. So if you have a need for more details and don’t want to bloat the page, here’s a viable solution.

Desktop Sites With or Without a Mobile Version

For desktop-only sites, or sites with a version, you have some work to do. Google will still index your site, but they will index it based off of how their mobile crawler goes through the page. Meaning if you’re working on a mobile-only version of your desktop site, it might be best to stop what you’re doing, keep the desktop site and look toward a responsive design in the future.

Google Gary IIlyes on Desktop Index

One caveat with that approach, and it’s a big one, you will not see any benefit (ranking boost) from having a mobile site. Consider these tips to get you started.

  • Couple your site with Search Console and use the “Fetch as Google” function to see exactly how the mobile Googlebot will crawl your site.
  • Look for pages not rendering properly in mobile by the Google:smartphone selection.
Fetch as Google Example

As a recap, while you might not be impacted directly by this initially, eventually the index will catch up with your industry and others will have capitalized on the weaknesses of your site. Marketing teams who have not started discussions around their mobile webs strategy are well behind the curve by at least 2 years.

Review your website’s analytics and understand what percentage of your users now are are mobile vs. desktop. Write it down. Now, look back at historical data for the past 12 to 18 months and watch the trend in mobile users increase. Write it down. Breaking this data out into quarterly chunks makes the case for a mobile strategy and responsive design much more obvious.

If your team is looking to make a case for a mobile strategy, stack the deck in your favor and let the numbers speak for themselves. It’s ok to blame us in the SEO industry and start improving your mobile-user experience as the outcome.

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