Google has recently completely changed how it indexes websites as part of how it ranks its search engine results pages. Whereas the site previously indexed everything as a desktop user, it will now crawl sites like your own as a mobile user instead. This "mobile-first indexing" concentrates on ranking sites higher that are easier to find and navigate using a mobile device. This is not a temporary fad or something that will be rolled back. Instead, this is the new normal, and its important that your business and your websites are ready for it with a few key steps.

Embrace Mobile-Responsive Sites

The good news for businesses whose sites are not yet optimized for mobile is that Google still still crawl for desktop users; "mobile-first indexing" does not mean "only-mobile indexing." However, there is no time like the present to create a responsive-template for your sites to adapt them for mobile devices.

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Google did not make their decision to embrace mobile-first lightly; rather, it was based on the higher number of mobile searches than desktop searches and the simple fact that mobile users now surpass desktop users. If a business should always try to meet customers where they are, then it is imperative to prepare your site for mobile.

How to Prepare for Mobile-First

For those worried about this change, there is a pretty big silver lining: under these new methods, so-called "expandable content," such as the content within accordions, tabs, and anything else that is typically hidden behind a "read more" link is now crucially relevant. This material was not heavily-weighted by Google before, but now, everything is weighted equally. So, while your website may need a number of changes to stay competitive, you'll now have more SEO opportunities than ever in its design.

The Ticking Clock

While complete implementation of this indexing will take months, the process has already begun, despite Google remaining cagey about a firm completion date due to them ironing out issues related to the code as they go along. As those issues are ironed out, though, more searchers will be rolled in a timelier manner, meaning that the curtain is falling if you wish to make changes to your sites before all of this takes place. Fortunately, seeing what Google sees on your sites is no great mystery:

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Use the Google Search Console and click on "crawl," followed by the selection "Fetch as Google." Select "mobile smartphone" and then hit "fetch and render" to get an accurate picture of what the crawler sees when it encounters your website.

Now, Google will use ranking signals from your mobile online presence, to influence not only mobile rankings, but desktop too. Here are a few items that will influence your rank:

  • Page speed of your mobile site
  • Titles
  • H1s
  • Structured data
  • Other tags and content generated from your mobile site

Mobile is begin factored into your desktop ranking results too. Why? Because mobile keeps growing and more and more searchers will use mobile over desktop to search.

If you see a big difference between the content shown on your mobile site vs. desktop site, consider making some tweaks. It is recommended that you take a responsive approach. This gives you more control of the content on a page-by-page basis from your desktop to your mobile site. 

Back to the Future

Going forward, there will eventually only be this mobile index, even though there is a mobile index and desktop index in the interim. Make no mistake, though: the desktop index is going to be phased out as soon as Google is comfortable with doing so. The mobile index represents an enormous change, but it also represents an enormous opportunity for those who are willing to embrace change and take their own website design to a higher tier of quality and ease for their customers. The only direction for the future is forward, and this is your chance to firmly steer your business in that direction.

Have you begun making changes to adapt to Google's mobile friendly index? Share your tips in the comments.

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