Google has been slowly rolling out mobile-first indexing of content. Mobile-first indexing is a shift from using desktop versions of websites in search rankings to mobile versions of websites. This may not seem significant, but it's a paradigm shift as to how search engines parse and rank your website, and it may affect your page rankings.
While Google is the only search engine adopting this mobile-first approach, it's far and away the industry search leader, so we should pay attention. StatCounter—an analytics company that aggregates data from over 2 million websites—believes that Google has about 91 percent of the world's search engine market share, with the second-largest being Bing at 3 percent.
Google's move toward mobile-first indexing also reinforces a global usage trend: People are using their phones for search more than ever. Mobile is here, and search engines are trying to optimize their experiences based on that shift to mobile devices.
Search Engines Are Banking on Mobile
Search engines exist to help people find what they need as quickly as possible. StatCounter believes that, at the time of this writing, desktop computers only make up 44 percent of the global market share, with tablets and smartphones making up the other 56 percent of the market.
This is such a significant shift that Google has decided to index content differently than it has for nearly two decades and embrace the “mobile-first" trend.
From the beginning Google has always parsed content as if reading it from a desktop computer, and then generating search result rankings based off of those desktop experiences. In March the company announced that it has been indexing mobile versions of website content, and that they've started rolling this new, mobile-first indexing into the results. Google has essentially started the process of optimizing their search results for mobile devices.
This is not an isolated event. Google and Bing have added business listings as a way to show mobile searchers more information about local businesses, like hours of operation, directions, reviews and more. Mobile searchers are more likely on the move, so making this type of information easily available for mobile queries makes sense.
What Does This Mean for Your Business?
This shift to mobile-first indexing may not change anything immediately for your business website.
In an entry from the Google Webmaster Central Blog late last year, Google stated that sites using responsive website design or separate mobile websites generally don't have to do anything to prepare for the mobile-first index.
Google has compiled best practices for mobile-first indexing if you want to make certain that your site is ready for the shift. The key takeaway from their guidance: Make sure that your desktop and mobile versions of the website are essentially identical.
Other best practices that Google laid out for ensuring success in the mobile-first indexing include:
- If you have a separate domain for your mobile website (like m.yourcompany.com), then make sure that you've verified both versions in Google Search Console.
- Make sure that both sites (desktop and mobile) have metadata-like titles and meta descriptions.
- Ensure that the content is the same for both versions of the website.
If you're using responsive web design on your website, Google reassures that you shouldn't have to worry about the above practices, as responsive web design merely changes the appearance and style of the website depending on the browsing device.
Making Sure Your Site Has the Best Mobile-First Indexing Experience
At the end of the day Google and your business want the same thing: to show your visitors the information they need as effectively as possible. If your business works hard to achieve this no matter what device visitors are using, it will help Google better understand and organize your content, and potentially increase rankings.
The best way to put your website (mobile and desktop) in the best light for search engines is to remove bloat and improve your website speed. For the sake of mobile-first indexing, removing bloat from your website helps keep your site fast, which Google has acknowledged on their Webmaster Blog last year as a ranking factor.
Remove any scripts, images, videos and any other content that could get in the way of a mobile visitor from achieving their objective. You can get a good idea of what components are slowing your website down with Google's Page Speed tool or Webpage Test.
Removing excess on your website does more than potentially help mobile rankings: it also forces your business to focus on the truly important information. It's a good practice for most secondary pages on your website (product page, blog post, etc.) to have at most one or two calls to action (buy a product, sign up for an email list and so on.) Removing anything that doesn't help those core objectives on each page is a great way to help improve site interaction and conversions.
Search engines keep evolving to provide better and more concise information for their users. Optimizing your website as much as possible for mobile visitors can help give you the best chance to rank as highly as possible, too.
Read more articles on mobile.