Google is no stranger to controlling the internet. Its constantly changing algorithms literally write the book on search engine results. To ensure your website, whether it be for personal or professional use, isn’t impacted too severely by Google’s latest change, read on.

google search engine on iphone
Source: Shutterstock Kashin

The mobile-first index, simply put, describes your user behavior on your phone. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, you are interacting with your mobile device.

This often begins and ends with setting an alarm and includes checking multiple social media accounts, many times throughout the day. It also means your mobile device often takes priority over a laptop or desktop for using the internet.

A study by Go-Globe predicts that 80% of internet usage will be mobile by 2018. That’s less than one year. To keep up with this shift toward mostly mobile use, search engine platforms such as Google have created indexes on mobile devices that surpass desktop versions, after 18 years of desktop-based rankings.

mobile internet usage
Source: Go-Globe

Google recently announced it will direct its focus to prioritizing mobile results over desktop ones. Although the company is just testing this approach for now, there is a lot to learn to prepare for this change.

mobile-first indexing
Google’s Gary Illyes Tweeting the Mobile-first indexing announcement in November of last year

Essentially, this means that Google will start ranking search listings based on the mobile version of the site, regardless of whether it is being accessed from a desktop.

As a consequence, your desktop page’s ranking will be punished or rewarded based on the quality of your mobile website.

Websites will want to adjust to this change and optimize content in order to be rewarded for having mobile friendly sites and to minimize negative impacts as a result.

What Exactly is Mobile-First Indexing?

Mobile-first Indexing essentially means the following:

1. SERPs will now be based on mobile-based content. SERP stands for search engine results page. Currently, websites show content found on desktop-based viewers. As the shift to mobile-first websites comes into effect, you may want to edit how much content you have on your site’s mobile version.

2. Mobile-friendly websites are top priority. Google has already stated their preferred method of mobile-friendly websites is responsive design. This change will shift the site index to prefer mobile pages.

3. AMP-enabled pages are treated as mobile content. An AMP is an Accelerated Mobile Page which means Java Script is removed, allowing you to load pages instantly on a mobile device. These pages will be indexed first by search engines.

4. If a mobile site is not available, Google will continue to rank the desktop version. However, sites that are mobile-optimized will be valued higher than desktop versions and will have an easier time ranking in results pages.

5. Techniques to improve visitor experience on mobile devices will carry full weight.

What do I need to do to Prepare for this Shift?

  1. Track your site’s mobile rankings – Use this tool if you’re not sure of your site’s mobile rank.
  2. Note the differences between your mobile and desktop versions – Consider how your content should be adjusted for mobile viewing: this includes shortening content, including video or audio, or replacing content that is not mobile compatible.
  3. If you’re not already using an AMP, consider making the switch. AMPs take a lot of the guesswork out of this shift and automatically optimize mobile content.
  4. If you’re still adjusting to these changes, maintain your desktop version until the mobile one is perfected.
  5. Prioritize site speed and user experience and engagement – Site speed is increasingly more important with mobile interfaces, as is how long a viewer stays on your page or whether they navigate to other pages on your site.

What else do I need to know?

Google has been preparing for this update, including algorithm changes that make finding user-friendly pages easier and rewarding sites that have faster load speeds.

This is a direct result of the massive increase of mobile internet users over the past few years. Consider how many more smartphone users there are today than there were just 5 years ago. Over the past 10 years, mobile data has increased 6,000-fold, up from a staggering 600 million-fold from 15 years ago (according to Cisco blogs).

Google has historically been keen on mobile-friendly versions of sites.

sample mobile usability report
Sample mobile usability report

Optimizing your site to ensure it loads quickly on a desktop and a mobile device is essential for surviving Google’s updates. A study done by Google itself showed that 53% of sites are abandoned if they take more than 3 seconds to load.

When will Google drop this bomb?

While the shift was announced in November of last year as a testing period, actual changes might not be seen for a few more months. This gives you time to make the adjustments you need to your sites to avoid losing valuable rankings when the shift officially occurs.

Google’s latest update can seem daunting but is actually fairly straightforward. As long as you check your website’s mobile ranking and optimize it for speed and user engagement, possibly considering using an AMP, you will have no trouble surviving this moment’s Google attack.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

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