Mobile-First Indexing: Beyond the Marketing Minute

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When you ask yourself “Should I optimize for mobile first or desktop first?” the answer should always be mobile, whether you’re making speed, UX, or accessibility optimizations.

The mobile experience is more error-prone because (1) the screen has less room and (2) mobile users are typically very impatient and ready to bounce. Optimizing for mobile first ensures a good experience for both mobile and desktop users. With Google mobile-first indexing being the gold standard, it also creates a better experience for web crawlers.

Here’s what you should know about that to maintain a healthy website.  

What Does Mobile-First Indexing Mean?

Think of a search engine index as a large database where all webpages are stored. When a new site is launched, all its pages must be added to the index so search engine spiders can crawl them, contextualize them and rank them fairly in search results. “Mobile-first indexing” refers to search engines’ process of using the mobile version/format of a page to inform indexing and ranking.  

Now when someone performs a search in Google, search engine spiders will reference the mobile index before the desktop version to evaluate pages’ relevance for each user.

Why Did Google Change to Mobile-First Indexing?

In short: Google’s main goal is to provide the best user experience by following search habits. The introduction of smartphones completely changed those search habits. By 2019, 63% of Google’s organic search traffic was mobile, so mobile-first indexing simply makes sense.

Before mobile devices had online capabilities, desktop pages were considered the primary version of a website. Since most people visited websites on a desktop, most companies put all their design and development efforts into those pages. Therefore, search engines like Google were indexing desktop pages before mobile pages. Then the focus was adapted to meet the mobile-first habits of internet users around the world.

Since mobile traffic has surpassed desktop traffic across the board since 2018, many companies are investing more resources in the mobile user experience.

What Does This Mean?

This means the mobile experience and your mobile website are more important than ever. Your mobile site is the baseline for how Google determines your website rank. If you still don’t have a responsive or dynamic serving site design (content and markup is equivalent between desktop and mobile), you have significant work ahead of you.

In addition to optimizing for page speed, you should ensure your site delivers the best user experience, since Google is serving this as the primary version of your page.

How to Make a Webpage Mobile Friendly for Your Users

We recommend developing a responsive site design. If your site is already responsive, skip to the next section!

The advantages of a responsive website can’t be denied:

  • A single URL makes it easier to share and link your content.
  • It helps Google’s algorithms accurately assign indexing properties.
  • Less time is spent managing multiple pages with the same content.
  • It saves your crawl budget resources.

If you have a site configuration where the content and markup is different between your desktop and mobile sites (i.e., it’s unresponsive), Google released a few best practices to help you comply with mobile-first indexing:

Improving Your Responsive Site and Other Digital Assets

If you have a modern, responsive website, that’s excellent! But there’s more you can do to optimize your site. It’s kind of like cleaning the kitchen – it always needs to be done.

We put together a Mobile Optimization Guide that makes this easier. It explains not only how to improve your website but also how to think mobile-first when it comes to your email campaigns, social media, and more!

What Are Accelerated Mobile Pages and How Do You Implement Them?

Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMPs, are optimized for mobile page load time. They use stripped-down HTML to keep loading times speedy. Focusing on page speed is an important part of user experience. Most users will click away from a page if it doesn’t load in three seconds. It doesn’t matter how well-designed your ad was or how high in the SERP you ranked if users don’t stay on your site.

Google launched its AMP project in 2016 and an open-source framework. It’s developed over time to provide higher performance, drive up engagement, and offer the flexibility of mobile design. Follow Google’s AMP tutorial to enhance the mobile experience for your users. AMP has evolved a lot over the years and while other ways to improve the mobile experience have surfaced, it remains one of the most accessible ways to provide a fast website experience on the go.

While AMP is no longer the be-all-end-all mobile design, the lessons on page speed aren’t so quickly dismissed. Whether you stick with AMP or turn to a new way of ensuring a great page experience, put speed and UX at the top of your priority list.

Follow these recommendations, in addition to the tips in our Monday Marketing Minute video, to provide the best mobile user experience.

Mobile-First Indexing FAQs

Is my website mobile-friendly?

For a quick assessment, run a simple mobile-friendly test with Google’s tools. You can get a more in-depth view of any problems with a site audit from tools like Screaming Frog and SEMRush.

How to see the mobile view on desktop:

Since most of the website design and development happens on a desktop, it helps to see, from a desktop, how your website looks on a mobile device. If your website uses responsive design, you can make your browser window narrow to simulate the size of a mobile device. For Chrome users, right-click, click on “Inspect” and click on the “toggle device toolbar” icon in the upper left-hand corner of the developer tools sidebar.

A screenshot of toggle device toolbar.

How much does AMP improve page load speeds?

According to one study, Google AMP pages load four times faster than non-AMP, traditional mobile pages. They also require eight times less data!

Need a Hand?

If you need help with your mobile site or want to create a dynamic site to make management easier, contact us today, and let us see how we can help.

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Taylor Holloran, Account Manager I joined Oneupweb after spending five years as an editor and project manager for an electronic publishing company in Traverse City. Before moving to northern Michigan, I worked on the ground for several international aid organizations, supporting development and conservation projects in Argentina, the Philippines and Cambodia. My experience working with...

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