If you’re concerned about search engine optimization, chances are that you keep a close eye on what the big search engines are up to – especially Google.
Anyone following the search engines will tell you that they’re always up to something. New changes are introduced regularly and keeping up with these changes is vital for improving your search rankings.
You can’t really blame Google either. They are the world’s most popular search engine for many reasons and they intend to stay there. One way of doing so is by providing a better user experience, and many of the changes they make to their search ranking algorithm are aimed at exactly that.
One of the latest changes is the introduction of a mobile-first index.
How Google’s mobile first index works
Google has traditionally prioritized desktop versions of websites over mobile versions when analyzing content for ranking on results pages. However, this has proved to be problematic for the search engine as more people have been using mobile devices to access the internet. It has meant that Google hasn’t been able to provide users with their preferences when searching from phones or tablets.
Google has always maintained that its primary goal is to provide its users with a great user experience. This goal applies whether users are accessing the search engine from their laptops, PCs or smartphones.
Accessing the internet via smartphones and tablets has skyrocketed in the past few years to overtake desktop. It is therefore no surprise that Google is turning everything upside down and prioritizing the mobile versions of websites. That is exactly what this new index is all about.
Google’s mobile first index is currently being tested and is not expected to fully roll out for another few months. However, this doesn’t mean that you can sit back and relax. The introduction of the index will spell major changes in how indexing is done. It is advisable for businesses to get ready for the changes that are coming sooner rather than later.
How to prepare for Google’s mobile first index
In true Google fashion, no dates have been released on when the full roll out will occur. The only information that can be squeezed out of the search engine is that testing has begun and the full roll out will probably be in a few months. With all this information, it’s best to get your website ready as soon as possible for the changes that are coming.
The following are some steps you can take to ensure that your website will be ready once the index is rolled out.
1. Invest in responsive design
Is your website responsive? Responsive design ensures that users can view and interact with your website from devices with different screen sizes. The website adjusts depending on the size of the screen it is being viewed from. This enhances user experience for users accessing your website from different devices.
If you already have a responsive website, you’re on the right track and won’t have to make as many changes to your site. If you don’t have a responsive design, you should consider investing in one.
2. Optimize your website’s design
The design of your website will play a major role in how users interact with it. It also plays a role in the ranking of your website. Optimizing your website for devices such as phones and tablets is important whether it is a responsive website or separate from your desktop website.
Be sure to:
- Get rid of flash images. These can’t be viewed on devices with small screens such as smartphones. It will therefore do you no good to have them. You can use Java or HTML 5 to add those cool elements you want on your site.
- Consider how users on tablets and phones use your website and design to make interaction easier. Since many rely on their fingers to scroll and tap, ensure buttons are larger and scrolling is easier.
- You can do without pop-ups. While these are great for lead generation, they can be frustrating for users on smaller devices. Using popups will guarantee you a higher bounce rate.
3. Register your mobile website or webpages in Google Search Console
If you have a separate website or webpages for devices with smaller screens, be sure to have it verified and registered in the search console. This will ensure that search engine robots register the existence of a separate website, which they will then analyze.
4. Speed up your website
According to a video on site performance released by Google, the search engine deems two seconds as the threshold for acceptability for e-commerce website loading times. In fact, the search engine aims for loading times of less than half a second. If your website isn’t loading as fast, you could suffer for it.
Here are some tips for improving the speed of your website:
- Optimize the images on your website. Smaller size images load faster and still achieve the same impact if downsized correctly.
- Reduce the number of redirects to your website.
- Remove any unnecessary characters in your source code to help increase the speed of processing the code.
- Take advantage of browser caching to store resource files on local devices every time a user visits your website. This will help to load your site faster.
5. Optimize for local searches
Just because the focus is shifting to providing a better experience for users on smaller devices doesn’t mean that location has been forgotten. It is even more crucial for you to optimize your site for local searches in order to drive more foot traffic to your store.
Consumers searching for information on local stores are more likely to turn to their phones or tablets. This is because these devices are always with them. It is therefore vital for businesses to increase their visibility on local searches carried out on these devices.
You can optimize your website for local searches from these devices by including your city and state in:
- The content
- Meta description
- Alt tags
It is also important to include your business name, phone and address in your content.
It is still too early to say how these changes will affect search engine rankings and digital marketing. Judging from changes that Google has made in the past, it is safe to say that many businesses will suffer if they don’t make necessary changes early.
Don’t wait for the announcement of the full roll out. Get ready now in order to avoid suffering the consequences and panic that will come.
You can run tests using various tools that Google provides to find out if your website is visible. The results will also tell you what is working for your website and what you ought to change. A great tool to consider is the Fetch and Render tool. This shows you what the search engine sees and indexes from your website. You can determine what content is missing and fix it. Run the tool as many times as you need to ensure that you address all the issues on your website.
This article originally appeared in Jeffbullas’s Blog.