SEO Tips to Prep for Google’s Mobile-First Index

Google doesn’t typically announce major algorithm updates or indexing changes. If they do announce something, it’s usually to acknowledge an update after it’s taken place and the details they give are vague and limited. This helps keep the SEO world on its toes, which means a more even playing field in Google organic search results and the best possible outcomes for its users. It’s the cornerstone that keeps Google organic search legitimate.

The next major update coming to Google—what’s being dubbed the “mobile-first index”—is being treated quite differently. Google has publicly announced that it’s coming sometime this year, and they’re actively trying to help developers and marketers stay ahead of the curve. For example, Google recently announced that mobile page speed is going to become a ranking factor starting in July 2018.

But why the sudden change? Why did Google announce this update, but not others?

Because Google is super serious about mobile and wants the world to know it. Because having a network of lightning-fast web pages that cater to the needs of users on the go is in the best interest of just about everyone. Because a mobile-optimized internet means a better experience on Google.

Not to be confused, the mobile-first index isn’t a Google algorithm update. It’s bigger than that. It’s an update to the fundamental system behind the algorithm; it’s changing the way Google crawls sites and how it indexes web pages. Up until now, Google has always crawled the desktop site first and the mobile site second. But this update is going to flip that order on its head.

Thankfully, Google has released quite a bit of documentation over the years on how to optimize for mobile the Google way, and we’re here to help you make sense of it all.

Our tips on how to optimize for mobile

Go responsive

If you haven’t adopted responsive design yet, now is the time. It’s a game changer when it comes to mobile SEO and UX—not to mention a significant reduction to your site’s operating costs, since you’ll only have to maintain a single version. It’s also the design choice preferred by Google Search.

With responsive design, the HTML and URL both stay the same, and the page content is automatically resized to fit the user’s device screen. The other option is to have a separate m-dot site, where you should have a mobile URL for every desktop URL on your site. It takes a lot of developer resources to maintain a second m-dot site. Do yourself, your developers, and the search engines all a favor and just go responsive.

Improve your Page speed

Google’s upcoming “Speed Update” will update the page speed signal from desktop-only to now include mobile, likely in anticipation of the switch to the mobile-first index.

If that wasn’t enough of a reason to sway you, your site’s load speed is directly correlated to your mobile revenue. According to Think with Google, every second delay in mobile page load can cause conversions to fall by up to 20%. Bottom line: it’s time to improve your mobile page load speeds.

Adopt AMP (if possible)

Since we’re on the topic of mobile page speed, we’ve got to talk about AMP—Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project. AMP is yet another move by Google to make the mobile web super fast. These pages are shown in a carousel at the tippy-top of mobile search results, so it can be very advantageous to adopt.

To implement AMP, you need to create a second AMP version of each web page, according to Google’s AMP guidelines. It basically strips down the HTML to only the content on the page. Google then serves up these pages instantaneously using their Content Delivery Network.

However, there are some common pain points when implementing AMP: It doesn’t allow for third-party JavaScript and other elements in the source code, which means it probably won’t work with most pages on a site. It’s still worth a go on articles and blog content, though, since it’s been proven to dramatically increase mobile click-through rates.

Lose the interstitial

It’s not in your best interest to have a pop-up on your mobile site. Google has been cracking down on sites with “intrusive mobile interstitials” for years now. If you absolutely have to have a pop-up on your site, for legal purposes or something of the like, make sure it’s easy for users to click out of and that it doesn’t cover the main content on the page.

The mobile-first index is a sign of the times now that mobile traffic has officially surpassed desktop traffic worldwide. But this doesn’t change the fact that this indexation switch still has massive implications. Luckily, Google has acknowledged this and has said that they’re being extremely cautious when rolling it out.

Our professional advice? It’s best to get on board the mobile optimization train today. The mobile-first index is coming soon—and it’s coming for us all.