How to Thrive in Google’s New Mobile Search Index
Last month, Google announced that it will be changing the way it evaluates web pages for mobile searches. With more than 3.2 billion people worldwide using the internet regularly and nearly 2.5 billion who do so from a mobile phone, according to data from eMarketer, this could have a huge impact on your brand’s SEO efforts.
In the past, mobile search results were based on the version of your website that’s presented to a user when they visit via a desktop computer. However, many websites have a separate, stripped-down version that’s presented to mobile visitors, so the user experience and value of websites aren’t always consistent even though mobile searches return the same results as the desktop version.
Google’s solution is to split its index of web pages into two parts, one for desktop and one for mobile, to provide the best user experience on each device. Each user’s search results will be dependent on the device they’re browsing from—desktop or mobile. This is a problem for brands who have stripped valuable content from their mobile sites and it may lead to lower search rankings on mobile devices.
Here are three simple steps that you can take to ensure you’re providing a good mobile experience that keeps both your visitors and Google happy:
1. Create a Mobile-Optimized Website
Any concession to mobile users is better than nothing. There are a few ways that you can optimize your existing website for mobile devices.
For instance, you can create a completely separate version of your website for mobile devices. Many times, these are hosted on a subdomain such as http://m.example.com. While this option will require additional web development, it can be done without impacting the desktop version of your website. This is the most common route for getting a mobile site up quickly. Another method is to use responsive design. This will allow your website to match the dimensions of the browser, rearranging the content on a page to fit the available space. This approach provides a good user experience on any device size, but it does require a fair amount of work to implement.
Whatever solution you choose will signal to Google that your website is “mobile-friendly” and deserves a place in the index. From there, it’s just a matter of optimization.
2. Optimize Your Visitor’s Mobile Experience
Now that Google will be viewing your mobile website as a completely self-standing entity, you’ll need to optimize the mobile version of your site in the same manner that you optimize your desktop site. That means you’ll have to work at improving both the user experience and Google search rankings through a mobile-first lens.
From a technical perspective, Google offers a tool that will test your website for mobile-friendliness and offer suggestions for fixing the issues. This is a quick way to identify issues with your mobile website.
In addition, Google’s Search Console provides a good resource for both desktop and mobile issues. Formerly called Google Webmaster Tools, Search Console will show you if Google has detected any errors on your website, alerts you about malware complaints, and gives you insights into how your site appears in Google’s index.
Next, it’s just a matter of optimizing your content. Google doesn’t provide any guidelines on that front, but we can infer that they want more than just a light version of the corresponding desktop page.
3. Don’t Skimp on Content
One of the objectives behind Google’s decision to split their index is to discourage website owners from stripping out valuable information from their websites in order to provide a faster loading site. While both site owners and Google are pursuing the same objective—to provide a good user experience— Google doesn’t think that sacrificing depth of content is the way to achieve it, and neither should you. And now that the mobile version of your website won’t benefit from the content on your desktop version, Google is forcing website owners to make sure that content is available to be crawled by their mobile ranking algorithm.
While this may seem like Google is forcing an additional burden on website owners, they have at least offered somewhat of a solution with their Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. AMP is a way to speed up the performance of a website, but it comes with a good deal of functionality trade-off. Some site owners have also reported poor performance when it comes to generating ad revenue via AMP pages.
At the end of the day, Google can always be counted on to do what it thinks will provide the best user experience to its end-users. Website owners and businesses that rely on search referral traffic from Google will either adapt and provide that expected experience or tumble down the rankings to make way for others that can. Be one of the sites that adapts!