January 3, 2018
How to Prepare for Google’s Mobile-First Index
The search marketing industry may not have seen as many algorithmic changes as in 2016, but one trend has remained consistent throughout 2017 and will only become more important as we enter 2018: mobile search. Last year brought the mobile-friendly algorithm update, the expansion of Accelerated Mobile Pages, and the announcement that Google would shift to a mobile-first index. The company has confirmed it is slowly rolling out the mobile-first index and offered some tips to help website owners prepare for this major change.
What Is the Mobile-First Index?
At present, about 80 percent of the crawling GoogleBot performs is done via a desktop crawler for most websites; a mobile crawler accounts for the other 20 percent. Google is also indexing and ranking these same sites based on the desktop version of their content. In cases where a significant disparity exists between the desktop and mobile versions of a website, the mobile searcher user experience could be compromised.
We’ve known for a few years now that more than half of search queries globally originate from mobile devices—recent reports have put the number closer to 60 percent. 1 Google has a huge stake in mobile search: not only does it control 95 percent of the market but mobile search is also one of its major sources of revenue growth. Given these statistics, it’s easy to see why the company would want to provide the best experience possible to mobile searchers.
Currently, Google is moving sites that are ready to the mobile-first index: the mobile version of GoogleBot is crawling 80 percent of the site and the desktop version the other 20 percent. For these sites, Google is primarily using their mobile version for ranking, indexing, snippets, and the content on the cache pages.
How to Get Your Site Ready for the Mobile-First Index
In a recent blog post, Google offered some tips to help website owners prepare for the mobile-first index.
Design & Serving
Perhaps the biggest change you can make is to adopt a responsive web design with dynamic serving. Make sure that your dynamic serving is set up correctly, with all desktop content and markup included.
Offer the same amazing content experience on the mobile version of your site as you do on the desktop one. Don’t forget to include images with alt-attributes, text, and videos in formats that can be easily crawled and indexed.
Google uses the titles and meta description tags you provide to evaluate the content of a page and appropriately index and serve it. This metadata should be consistent across the desktop and mobile versions of your site.
Structured data helps search engines categorize and index your content and can improve the presentation of your pages in SERPs to searchers. Ideally, you’ll want to have it on the desktop and mobile versions of your site and make sure the URLs are updated on mobile.
If your site has a separate mobile URL (m.yoursite.com), maintain the rel=canonical tag on the link pointing from the mobile page to the corresponding desktop page. On your desktop version, use the rel=alternate tag on the link sending Googlebot to the mobile page.
Multi-Regional and Multilingual Sites
Do you have multiple versions of your website to accommodate users that speak different languages or users in different regions? The hreflang attribute signals to Google which language you are using on a certain page. For example, if you have an English and a Spanish version of your page, the hreflang attribute will direct Google’s search engine to serve the correct version based on the searcher’s location. You can use the hreflang attribute to account for variations of one language, such as differences between how Spanish is spoken in Spain and Mexico. 2
When using the hreflang attribute, implement the tag on links from a mobile site for one language or country to the mobile version of the site for a different language or country. Do not use the tag on links from the mobile version of a site to the desktop version in a different language. Instead use the tag on links in between desktop versions of a site in different languages.
If using an m-dot or similarly separately hosted site, make sure the servers hosting the site can handle a higher crawl rate. Sites utilizing responsive design and dynamic serving don’t need to worry about this issue.
Making the Switch
If you haven’t made your site mobile friendly yet, it should be a top priority. Even though Google has indicated it’s slowly rolling out the mobile-first index, mobile devices account for more than half of searches now. Providing a poor mobile site experience could have you sending customers to your competitors. Once Google is only crawling, indexing, and ranking the mobile versions of sites, not being ready could prove detrimental to your site’s performance in SERPs, and, in turn, digital marketing business goals
If you’ve already made the necessary changes to your site, you can check your server log files to see if it’s been moved to the mobile-first index. The mobile version of GoogleBot would be crawling about 80 percent of your site and the desktop version of GoogleBot would account for the other 20 percent.
1 – https://searchengineland.com/report-nearly-60-percent-searches-now-mobile-devices-255025
2 – https://moz.com/learn/seo/hreflang-tag