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What Mobile-First Indexing Really Means

If you’ve been following search engine optimization (SEO) blogs and marketers, you probably notice a common topic of discussion: mobile-first indexing. What is it, and how does it affect your overall digital marketing strategy?

The term can connote many things, so we’ll define it in detail. We will also list five strategies to prep your website for this huge indexing change.

What Is Mobile-First Indexing?

In short, mobile-first indexing means that Google will prioritize adding to the server web pages optimized for mobile devices, such as tablets and laptops. It is a major departure from its previous system, which indexed pages designed for the desktop.

To better understand the concept, let’s talk about indexing and the rise of mobile use.

What Is Indexing?

In search engines, indexing refers to curating a huge database of websites that best answer a person’s query.

Let’s pretend that Google is the librarian, and you walk into a library looking for a specific book or information. You type in a query, like “How to travel to San Diego.” The search engine will then rely on its algorithms to scour an index of websites and pick the most relevant to your question.

The Popularity of Mobile Use

Previously, most of the indexed pages had desktops in mind. Because the screens were huge, you usually had plenty of space to scroll up and down. Further, sites featured several navigation options. They were also not responsive. You could zoom in and out, but they wouldn’t adapt to the screen size.

But around 2013 to 2015, mobile devices started outselling desktops. Even more interesting, more users rely on their smartphones, tablets, and laptops to go online. In fact, marketing experts forecast that mobile commerce will almost double its share of total retail sales from 2020 to 2025.

For this reason, in 2017, Google announced mobile-first indexing to reflect and align with this significant consumer behavior change.

What Mobile-First Indexing Is Not

Currently, mobile-first indexing is on a roll. If your website was published after September 2019, then it’s likely that this type of index is your default. But despite having been around for some time, many still have wrong ideas about this change. Let’s clarify some of them:

  • Google doesn’t have two kinds of indexing. If your website isn’t designed for mobile indexing yet, then the search engine will index your desktop version.
  • It can affect your ranking, but it’s not the be-all, end-all. Many factors can impact your position in the search results and might not have anything to do with mobile optimization.
  • This change is not about penalizing desktop versions. Mobile-first indexing will not make your website disappear from the search results.

5 Ways to Optimize Your Website for Mobile-First Indexing

Google understands that adapting to mobile-first indexing won’t be easy. It even has had to move the deadline a couple of times. But you need to take the plunge on this sooner rather than later.

Digital Authority Partners (DAP) has shared excellent strategies to optimize your website for this type of indexing today. Here are a few more:

1. Do Not Create Separate Content for Your Desktop or Mobile

Because the mobile landscape is small, publishing less content for it is tempting. Google strongly discourages this action. In fact, it suggests retaining the same content for both desktop and mobile.

The rationale is simple: if you publish fewer articles for smartphones or tablets, you lose the chance to maximize traffic and rank for various keywords once your website shifts to mobile-first indexing. As mentioned, the ones you put in the mobile version will be the bases for indexing and ranking.

2. Use the Lazy-Loading Technique

Lazy loading is an optimization strategy wherein you only load the critical elements of a webpage. The non-essential ones will follow suit once the user scrolls down. It makes the pages lighter and load faster, even on slow Internet connections.

This method is perfect for mobile for two reasons:

  • Mobile devices have smaller screens, so you cannot show everything in one go.
  • Not everyone on mobile has good Internet connectivity.

However, you should do this tactic right. Sometimes website designers or marketers will hide certain sections or limit the number of images users see when on mobile. They will appear only when people click, swipe, or scroll the page.

The problem with this is Google bots or spiders do not trigger actions. In other words, they crawl only what they can see. By obsessing about lazy loading, you skip the opportunity to have photos, for example, getting indexed.

3. Test Your Website’s Mobile-Friendliness

Google has a mobile-friendly test tool where you can check if your website is compliant with the best practices for this type of indexing. Type in your page’s URL, and it will show you a report with actionable insights.

The good news is that many popular platforms, such as WordPress and Wix, have mobile-responsive themes or templates. You can also find plugins or add-ons to help with the optimization.

4. Think about User Experience When Using Media

Improve user experience by seeing to it that your media is also mobile-friendly. This is especially important for videos and images since they can significantly slow down your pages. Here are a few ideas:

  • Compress the size of your photos without compromising quality using tools like TinyPNG.
  • Use a content delivery network (CDN) to load the files faster.
  • Ensure that your content, such as videos, is playable across different platforms, including mobile and desktop.
  • Consider adding captions or transcripts to your videos.
  • Follow the HTML5 standards for animations since not all browsers can play Flash content.

5. Redirect Your Desktop URL to Your Mobile Website

Make sure to redirect the users to the mobile URL if you created a separate one for your mobile site. The same goes for your desktop version. This way, both Google bots and your target audience can easily find the right pages.

You can do this by using a server-side 301 redirect or modifying the .htaccess file. The former is best for large websites, while the latter is a good solution for smaller ones. When using the 301 redirect method, guarantee that both versions have identical or similar content.

Final Words

Will Google stick to mobile-first indexing? We don’t know for sure. The Internet is dynamic and often responds to consumer behavior shifts.

What is clear is that the search engine implements it now, and you must adapt to it. This article has outlined this step and five strategies to help your website comply.

Consider hiring an SEO agency when you need to get things done quickly but accurately. The professionals can give you more tips and guide you through the process to ensure your website doesn’t miss a beat.

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