How to Optimize Your Website for the Mobile-First Index

Optimizing Your Website For Mobile-First Search Indexing

Mobile optimizations are more important than ever today with Google’s rollout of mobile-first indexing. Find out how to check if your website is indexing mobile-first and what to do to prepare if it’s not.

Mobile traffic is increasing – 61% of users won’t return to a website with bad user experience

It is paramount today that your website is mobile friendly and mobile optimized. Google says 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site with a poor user experience, with 40% visiting a competitor’s site (McKinsey). Without a mobile friendly site you’re not only at risk of losing out on your audience, but now, with Google’s mobile-first indexing, you’re at risk of losing out on website rank. Regardless of if your website is indexed mobile-first or not, mobile user-experience impacts performance, influencing the rank of your website.

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

Mobile-first indexing is Google’s new approach to crawling, ranking, and indexing websites. Instead of using a website’s desktop version as its starting point, Google has begun to use the mobile version as its starting point to index sites and determine rank.

Google announced the transition to mobile-first indexing in the spring of 2017. The first batch of changes rolled out this past spring and more updates will continue rolling out in batches. Once your website becomes part of the mobile-first index, you will be notified in Google Search Console.

Why Mobile-Friendly Optimizations Matter

Google does not issue a warning or notification prior to your website being indexed mobile first. So, even if your website isn’t currently being indexed mobile first, it is still important to optimize your website for mobile users to avoid a drop in ranking when the process starts.

Beyond mobile-first indexation, optimizing your mobile site ensures that mobile visitors can find your website and will have a good on-site experience. Statista reports that as of April 2018, 51.2% of all webpage views worldwide were from mobile devices, excluding tablets.

With mobile users visiting from both smartphones and tablets, your website needs to account for different screen sizes and load times. If mobile users reach a site that isn’t mobile friendly, bounce rate will increase and potential traffic and conversions will be lost. This results in a lower website performance, which impacts rank.

How Do You Know If Your Website Is Indexed Mobile-First?

Not sure if your website is indexed mobile-first? Here are a few ways to check:

  • The best way to verify if your website is being indexed mobile-first is to check your website’s Google Search Console. Google notifies every website when it is being indexed mobile-first.
  • A sign your website is being indexed mobile-first is an increase in crawl rates, according to Google. Most sites that have transitioned to the mobile-first index had spikes in crawl rates days before being notified.
  • If you’re familiar with log files, this is another place to check for changes. Google’s Senior Webmaster Analyst, John Mueller, notes that although 80% of crawling comes from the desktop Googlebot and 20% with the smartphone Googlebot; eventually most crawling will be done with the smartphone Googlebot. Nina Hale recommends using Screaming Frog to check your log files. View crawled URLs in your log file to identify which type of GoogleBot is crawling your URLs. If the majority is mobile, then you are being indexed mobile first by Google.

What Marketers Need To Know

Key metrics to pay attention to when checking if a site is mobile-friendly are mobile usability errors, design, and speed.

  • Mobile usability errors. Google Search Console tracks mobile usability for four key metrics, which are a good starting place for creating a good user experience on mobile devices. Check for error warnings and the pages they appear on from these four common issues:
    • Clickable elements are too close
    • Content is wider than the screen
    • Text is too small to read
    • Viewport is not set
  • Interchangeable design template. The overall design template should be interchangeable between the desktop and mobile versions, allowing users to interact easily with your website no matter which device they are using.
  • Website speed. If your website takes too long to load, even if just by a few seconds, it will lose traffic. A slow website makes for a bad user-experience, negatively impacting performance.

Whether Google is indexing your website mobile first or not, mobile optimization will benefit the user experience and overall website performance. Then, once the rollout reaches your site, any improvements you have made to your mobile experience will only benefit your search rankings.

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