Google officially rolled out mobile-first indexing one year ago this month. Folks in the SEO world had known this was a long time coming, and now that we’re a year into the new mobile-first algorithms, it’s time to refresh your site strategy to ensure that you’re still maximizing your search potential.

Historically, Google’s algorithm favored desktop search, meaning that the search engine’s crawlers used to typically index and rank the desktop version of your site, rather than the mobile version. This was understandably causing issues for some users as new mobile technology continued to appear on the market. As of 2017, users now spend 70 percent of their internet browsing time on a mobile device, and that number was expected to hit 80 percent by this year, according to an article by Quartz.

As of March 2018, however, Google now focuses on the mobile version of your site when it ranks it in a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). This means that instead of looking at your desktop site, the crawlers will first be checking for how well your site is set up for mobile users, whether you’ve employed responsive design, how intuitive it is to navigate, and other mobile-friendliness factors.

Because mobile search makes up such a large portion of our digital lives, it makes sense that Google’s algorithms now favor mobile search – there’s a high likelihood that any site you’ll be visiting today will be visited on a mobile device. And, if your site doesn’t meet your mobile users’ expectations, not only will they leave your site, they’ll also tell their friends to avoid your site as well.

Google’s priority is serving the needs of its users, and because it knows that its users expect sites to be designed for mobile, its crawlers now reflect that user intent. Google’s Webmaster Blog gives us a bit more context about the shift to mobile-first:

“Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.

We continue to have one single index that we use for serving search results. We do not have a “mobile-first index” that’s separate from our main index. Historically, the desktop version was indexed, but increasingly, we will be using the mobile versions of content.”

Convinced it’s time to pay attention to mobile-first design? In this post, we’ll give you five SEO tips to make the transition to mobile-first indexing a breeze.

5 SEO Tips for Mobile-First Indexing

Tip #1: Test your site for Mobile-Friendliness

Before you begin editing any aspect of your site, the first step you should take is to test your site for mobile-friendliness. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test allows anyone to input a URL and get a full report in seconds of how mobile-friendly their site is, as well as any loading and display issues that may need to be fixed to improve your search engine rankings.

When you input your business’s URL, you’ll get a report similar to the one I got for my personal website:

mobile friendly page

Source: Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test

The report gives you a quick yes-or-no answer to whether or not your URL is mobile friendly, as well as options to open a site-wide mobile usability report, learn more about mobile-friendly pages, or post comments or questions to a Google forum.

Your Mobile-Friendliness report will also show you any elements that are currently blocking Google’s crawlers, including things like advertising links.

After you’ve taken some time to look over the results of your scan, it’s a good idea to head over to your Google Search Console and check out the new “Mobile Usability” report. You’ll find this report under the Search Traffic tab. It’s another great resource for discovering issues that may be causing issues for mobile users and hurting your search rankings.

Tip #2: Switch to Responsive Design

“Responsive Design” means setting up your site design to adapt to users on any type of device. This method is preferred by Google to the old way of doing things, which was to create separate URLs for mobile and desktop. Trying to maintain two different versions of your site is a hassle, and it creates the potential for redirect errors and SEO issues. As SEO experts, we do not recommend trying to develop and maintain separate URLs – switching to mobile design will make your life easier, will boost your search rankings, and will ensure that your site visitors have a positive experience every time.

Responsive websites automatically adjust the font size, layout, photo resolution, and navigation options, depending on the size of the user’s screen. When designing for mobile, design for “fat fingers and bad eyes” – small buttons and font make for bad user experiences and a loss of visitor engagement, which leads to a decrease in site traffic, sales, and your online reputation. It pays to invest in responsive design.

Tip #3: Develop content for mobile

When it comes to creating content for a mobile-first audience, your number one priority should be keeping your audience engaged. Mobile users don’t want to read large blocks of small print – it’s tiring on the eyes, especially on mobile devices, and causes users to bounce off your site.

When writing and planning content for your site, ensure that your pieces will be attractive and easy to read on a cell phone with these tips:

  • Use headings and subheadings so users and Googlebots can easily scan the content for the main ideas.
  • Keep paragraphs short and to-the-point. Mobile visitors aren’t likely looking to read a 10-page article while they’re browsing on their way to work.
  • Be sure that your images will automatically resize for any type of screen and won’t show up too big – users don’t want to navigate around awkwardly sized photos to read your content.
  • Make your content library easy to navigate and search on mobile.

Tip #4: Optimize your page speed

One of the biggest indicators that your site is not mobile-friendly is slow loading times. If your website takes more than a couple of seconds to load, users will leave and find another site to meet their needs. Fast loading times are even more crucial on mobile than they are on desktop, as most mobile users are browsing on-the-go and don’t have much time to waste on a webpage that won’t load quickly. In addition, things like wifi and mobile data connectivity issues put mobile users at a disadvantage before they even get to your site, so be sure they don’t have to wait even longer for your pages to load.

To avoid high bounce rates and site visitor drop-off, keep unnecessary page code to a minimum, reduce photo resolutions, take advantage of browser caching, and minimize the number of redirects, wherever possible.

Tip #5: Allow CSS, images, and Javascript

Several years ago it was common practice to block elements like CSS, JavaScript, or images on mobile because not all mobile devices could display them properly. However, technology is now expanding at a rapid rate and all new devices on the market can easily display all of these elements. In addition, your search engine rankings will be boosted if Google sees that you’re displaying the same content to your mobile and desktop users – this means your site is responsive and friendly to any type of device, in keeping with the mobile-first directive. So, use elements like CSS and JavaScript as much as you’d like, always being sure to minimize unnecessary page code so you don’t slow down your loading times.

Partner with mobile-first SEO Pros

When it comes to setting up (or transitioning) your site for mobile-first indexing, consider the five suggestions in this article: test your site for mobile-friendliness, begin switching over to responsive design, develop content with mobile users in mind, keep your page speeds fast, and avoid blocking design elements like CSS and JavaScript. These tips will help keep your users happy and will boost your standings in the SERPs, which earns you more clicks and, therefore, more customers.

If your site is a few years old and was originally designed with desktop in mind, it can feel overwhelming to think about having to transition your site to a mobile-first mindset. After all, where do you even begin when it comes to migrating to mobile? We know that keeping up with Google’s changing algorithm can be frustrating and confusing at times, so we’re committed to bringing you fresh content to help make your first foray into SEO a little easier. Need a little more help when it comes to mobile-first marketing? Sign up for your free Big Leap SEO consultation and start seeing yourself higher up in the search results today.