What You Need to Do Now to Get Ready for Google's Mobile-First Index
It seems like it’s been forever since Google first announced its mobile-first index. So where exactly is it? Don’t worry, it’s coming, and Google has given you ample warning.
According to the latest reports, Google is hoping to release the mobile-first index early in 2018, but it could be a little later. That really doesn’t give you much time to prepare. Given that a high-quality website redesign process can take upwards of 15-20 weeks, you might be in big trouble if you don’t start now.
With only a few months to get ready, here’s what you need to know and what you need to do.
What You Really Need to Know About the Google Mobile-First Index
Before telling you what to do, let’s briefly cover some of the basics of the mobile-first index:
- Google’s index is what dictates search results, including where or if your website shows up for any given search query.
- Currently, Google’s index looks primarily at desktop versions of your website. The mobile-first index changes that. Now Google will focus on how your website renders on a mobile device.
- It’s not a separate index. It will be the ONLY index.
- Google is making this change because more people search from mobile devices than desktops. Therefore, it makes sense (from Google’s perspective) to deliver search results that are optimized for mobile devices.
- It’s not live right now, but Google is testing it.
- There will still be hundreds of ranking factors. Being mobile friendly will only be one of them. Non-mobile friendly websites will still be indexed, but they will be demoted.
- Site speed will become more important.
- Links may become less important.
- Tabbed/hidden content may no longer be demoted in search results.
Whew. Confused yet? That’s a lot of info to digest, and that’s only a brief summary. But if you’re a website owner, you’re more concerned with what you need to do rather than knowing all the technical details. So let’s talk about the next steps.
Your First Step: Make Sure Your Website is Mobile Friendly
It’s 2017. The dreaded Mobilegeddon is already a few years behind us. How you can have a website that isn’t mobile friendly at this point is astounding. But you’ve made it this far with what you have, so let’s get beyond that. However, you aren’t going to be able to make it much longer. Without a mobile-friendly website, you will probably rank behind every competitor who has one, which is going to be most of them. You can’t afford to be a technology holdout.
So how do you go mobile friendly? The answer is, responsive design. It’s the most future-proof technology, and it’s the method that Google and SEO experts the world-over prefer. It’s the most cost-effective, most time-efficient, and most consumer-friendly option. Having a separate mobile website doesn’t make much sense for the vast majority of businesses, especially as screen sizes and device types become more diverse. And don’t even think about skipping a mobile-friendly website for a mobile app. Unless you’re a handful of huge companies, your customers aren’t going to use your app, and they’re never going to find it anyway if you don’t have a mobile-friendly website.
Summary: If your website isn’t already responsive, you need a new website now.
Already Have a Mobile-Friendly Website? Here’s the most important fix you can make.
The importance of page speed is a much-debated topic. Some say it’s critical, but plenty of slow websites rank high in search results. This debate will end with the mobile-first index. Presently, your slow website isn’t causing you too much trouble in terms of your search rankings—although it may be killing your conversion rate. Site speed might only be a minor ranking factor, but it’s a major UX factor. Just ask Amazon who lost $1.6 billion in sales because of one second.
Page speed is going to become a much bigger factor in the mobile-first index. How fast will your site need to load? As fast as you can make it is the best answer. Faster than your competition is another acceptable one. Load in less than a couple seconds? Not too shabby. Just remember that even a fraction of a second can cost you customers. Make it as fast as possible and get your PageSpeed score as high as possible.
Does this mean I should Design for Mobile First?
No. Forget mobile-first design. Design should always be based on your customers and your business goals. Designing for a specific device is never going to be in the best interest of your company. You need a website that delivers a great experience on every device, which is why you’re going with a responsive website.
Just because Google’s index looks exclusively at how your website functions on a mobile device doesn’t mean that mobile is the most important aspect of your website. Good web design is not device specific. Good web design looks at the big picture. And a successful digital marketing strategy does not live by Google alone. Design your website based on your goals and your audience, focusing on great UX and UI on every device. If you do that, then you’ll be in great shape for the mobile-first index. You’ll also be in great shape for every other marketing channel, and you’ll be ready for every visitor who comes to your website whether they’re on the latest smart phone, a wearable device, a desktop running Windows 95, or a futuristic stone tablet that somehow harnesses the power of the world wide web.
Do I Need to Change My Entire Digital Marketing Strategy?
Not if it’s a good one. If you’ve been doing the right things all along, you’re going to be in great shape as long as you have a mobile-friendly website that loads fast. You shouldn’t have to change much for the mobile-first index. You’ll just need to adapt to whatever changes come along, but a good digital marketing strategy already does that every day.
The Time Is Now
It feels like we’ve been here before. You’ve seen the other doomsday warnings. If you’ve somehow survived them all, you might think you can just ride this one out as well. That’s a pretty risky move. The writing is clearly on the wall, and you can’t erase it or hide from it. Mobile isn’t the future. It’s where you have to be right now, and Google is about to lay down a mobile law that you won’t be able to escape.