Preparing for Mobile First SEO

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22 Dec 2016
Sandy Halliday

It seems that every year for the past 3 years has been coined ‘the year of mobile’ for organic search. For 2017 this has become even more poignant with Google’s announcement that it will be creating a dedicated mobile index, to be rolled out over the first few months of 2017.

More importantly, this index will become the primary index Google uses to rank sites in search. It appears that 2017 really is shaping up to be the year of mobile.

But how should we prepare for this? With Google further shifting the emphasise onto mobile devices, how can we ensure our website is positioned to rank well and convert users?

How significant is this update?

First of all, it is important to understand the significance of this announcement. In November 2016 Google first announced this update, citing a need for better content served to mobile users browsing the web.

With the amount of global users on a mobile device overtaking desktop in 2014, and rising, and as many as 96% of smartphone owners using their device to get things done, it is little wonder that Google wants to keep serving the best mobile content to users.

Up until now, Google has always used a desktop index (or combined desktop/mobile index) to crawl and rank sites. This shift will surely emphasise to webmasters and SEO’s the importance of websites being mobile friendly.

Growth in mobile search 2016 graph

Source: Morgan Stanley Research

The importance of being mobile friendly

The SEO world went crazy when, in April 2015, Google announced its search algorithm will ‘favour mobile-responsive websites’ over non-responsive websites. There was a clamber by SEO’s, digital marketers and businesses to find out more about how this algorithm update would impact their rankings.

As well as reiterating the SEO benefits, Google are also keen to share how a slow or non-dedicated mobile website can put customers off purchasing.

Google report that up to 29% of smartphone users will immediately switch to another site or app if it doesn’t satisfy their needs.

If your content isn’t sized accordingly to adapt to mobile viewing you may be losing revenue and search positions.

Mobile friendly test

Source: developers.google.com

Switching to a dedicated mobile friendly website

Having a dedicated responsive website isn’t the end of the story. There are some other checklists to address in order to be considered mobile (first) ready.

  • Accessible – Ensure your website is accessible for crawlers to access and index all URL’s. This includes having an updated, effective robots file and well structured XML sitemap.
  • Mobile UI – Many webmasters still omit certain sections or content from their site on mobile view, whereas others replicate the same content across desktop and mobile devices. A review of viewed content should be taken to ensure there isn’t too little (or conversely too much!) content on mobile devices. This includes copy, links, ads and images. Otherwise users may be put off entirely. You can test your site using Google’s own mobile friendly tool here.
  • Speed – It is important that mobile speed is optimised to ensure a faster experience for users. You can check the speed of your website using Google’s dedicated speed checker tool.

By making progressive steps to ensure content is accessible, mobile friendly and fast you are increasing the likelihood of driving users through to make a purchase.

What’s next?

Micro-moments

Google will continue to optimise content tailored towards micro-moments – or intent driven moments of decision-making,whether this be through the increased adoption of rich snippets and AI or ad targeting. Many campaigns and content pieces are still designed around the idea that consumers are desktop first. A consumer’s journey inevitably spans many devices at many different times. It is important a balance is found to guide the user effectively.

Progressive Web App’s (PWA’s)

Expect an increase in the amount of progressive web app’s (PWA’s) found across the search landscape. PWA’s allow users to browse web pages as usual but instead adopt the look and feel of an app. They are much faster than traditional mobile sites and can collect notes on user behaviour to serve more personalised content.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

AMP rollout is well underway. It allows for fast loading of static content pages across multiple platforms. A Google-backed project, it has been mainly adopted by publishers and editors to serve content faster than wait for web pages to load. Expect an increase in use across publishers and rollout to alternative content providers.

More information can be found on the AMP project website.

Semantic Search (voice)

Google and Bing have both invested in voice search as they see it as an increasing medium to which search is conducted. In fact, Bing have said as many as 25% of all searches are done via voice search.

Google have integrated voice commands into its messaging app ‘Allo’ to allow for rich snippet information to be displayed for anything from cinema tickets, restaurants and flights. Allowing for easy sharing of information between friends.

Google search assistant with allo messaging

Source: www.thenextweb.com

Summary

The evidence that mobile has slowly been taking over the world has been confirmed and it is hardly surprising. With advances in search behaviour and technology it was only really a matter of time before Google put mobile first when it came to ranking and indexing.

How websites and businesses respond is the next crucial step. There is no going back as far as major search engines are concerned. 2017 should be the year businesses and brands roll up their sleeves and adopt the changing search landscape.

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