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What Is Mobile-First Indexing & Why Does It Matter?

Daniel Escardo

Front-end Developer, 15+ Years of Web Development on HubSpot and Various CMSs

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What Is Mobile-First Indexing & Why Does It Matter? Blog Feature

Published on October 12th, 2018

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Nowadays what I’m about to say is nothing new, but If you’re anything like me, you’re consuming way more information on the web than you used to.

In my case, any time I’m not required to be by my computer, I almost exclusively use my phone for any data consumption.

This means I’m checking my email, paying my bills, staying in touch with friends and, yes, searching the web solely by pulling my phone out of my pocket.

I don’t need a desk, WiFi, or an outlet to be connected, but, boy do I hate it when I grab my phone to run a Google search only to have to work through a site trying to find why I need.  Pinching and zooming and scrolling… So frustrating, right?

Well -- Google agrees. That’s why in December 2017, Google began to use the mobile version of sites to enhance its results and offer a better user experience

So, What Does that Mean for You -- The Web Info Provider?

Per their own blog post on the matter, Google says:

“Mobile-first indexing -- means that we'll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our –  primarily mobile – users find what they're looking for.”

In other words, mobile-first indexing is when Google looks at the mobile version of your content first to help mobile users find what they’re looking for in a format that provides the best experience on-the-go.

For content providers and brands looking to get found online, that means it’s time to take hard look at our sites to ensure we’re providing mobile users the best experience possible. Our sites should be fully-optimized on mobile and easily consumed across the spectrum of devices and browsers that our audiences are using to access them.

Why Does This Matter?

This is important because as the volume of online searches continues to shift from desktop to mobile devices, websites with content optimized for mobile users will increasingly be given preference.  

This isn’t the future. This is now.

Many researchers project that as much as two thirds of all web visits will be coming from a mobile device by the end of 2018.

In fact, so far this year, 52.2% of all worldwide online traffic was generated from a mobile device; that’s up from 50.3% in the previous year.

When it comes to mobile devices, smartphones are the standard and mobile browsing is now a part of everyday life. To be most effective, brands need to make sure their web presence aligns with this behavior.

It’s time to stop thinking of mobile-friendly as an add-on to your desktop site and instead, think about writing, designing, and experiencing your website mobile first -- with an expanded desktop site.

Neglecting to take a mobile-first approach to web design is risky. In the worst scenario, Google  may determine that other sites provide a better experience and serve their results up instead of yours on the search engine results pages.

If, however, you take a proactive approach, mobile-first indexing is an amazing opportunity to streamline your brand’s web experience and re-engage with users that may just be bouncing off your site because it’s too difficult/frustrating to navigate on a mobile device.

Getting Started With Mobile First Indexing

If you already have a responsive website and you’ve already taken care to make sure that your content is easily consumed on mobile, then there’s not much you need to do right now.

If, on the other hand, your site is not mobile-friendly, don’t panic! We’ve got you covered.

Here are four steps to help you get started:

1. Look for the Notification

Google is slowly transitioning the websites it indexes over to mobile-first indexing. If you’re already using Google’s Search Console, you’ll receive a notification in your Console when your site becomes subject to mobile-first indexing, and that is your cue to carefully watch whether your website traffic or search rankings change for the better or worse.

2. Re-Evaluate Your Mobile Experience

If you don’t already have a mobile-friendly site, now is the time to evaluate your mobile experience and make sure it’s consistent with your desktop site.

This is not to say the way visitors interact with your mobile and desktop websites needs to be identical. In fact, user behavior on mobile devices often is quite different than it is on a desktop computer, and a well designed site will take this into account.

In many cases, it may even be beneficial to clean up your mobile version to promote legibility, ease-of-use and navigation. This last one is especially important for phones and other one-hand devices.

Put yourself in the shoes of your buyer/user.

Pick up your smartphone and interact with your website from an objective point of view. Write down different ways you think you’ll be able to enhance the experience for mobile users. Go out of your way to find opportunities to delight them so they can get the information they need faster.

Is your goal to inform? Make sure the site is legible on a mobile device and devoid of distractions (such as unnecessary pop ups) that might detract from that goal.

Mobile sites don’t need as much decoration, crazy effects, and transitions. Just make sure that the essence of your message is presented in a ready-to-consume fashion.

If your goal is to engage, make sure your forms and calls-to-action are easy to click and fill out on a mobile device and that any live chat or messenger bot functionality works well on mobile.

3. Pay Close Attention to Your Conversion Paths

For most marketers, success is measured in part by the number of leads that come from the company website. When it comes to making your site mobile-friendly, its important to ensure that your website visitors have a frictionless experience as they travel through your website conversion paths (ex. Visiting landing pages, clicking calls to action, filling out forms, etc.).

You can evaluate this fairly easily by signing into your Google Analytics account and filtering your conversions for mobile. We do this for many of our clients here at IMPACT and it is often startling to see the differences in visitor-to-lead conversions between desktop visitors and mobile visitors.

Having this data is a powerful reminder of how important it has become to ensure that your mobile experience is fully optimized, but it is also an important benchmark that you can use to measure the impact of any changes you make as you optimize your site for mobile.

4. Consult a Professional

If all of this seems overwhelming and you’re feeling unprepared to tackle mobile-first indexing on your own, there are plenty of professionals who can help.

If you don’t already have a web support team or an agency on retainer, run a search on your phone or tablet for a user experience, website redesign or digital marketing professional to help understand how to get the most out of your website for your business.

Pro tip - check out their own website experience to get a better idea of their strategy. The one with the best mobile experience just might be the winner!

If you need more guidance, here are some sites to help you get into the nitty-gritty and see just how friendly your current site is, as well as, provide some best practices:

The move to mobile is inevitable, and with Google rolling out mobile-first indexing, there is no better time than now to take action.

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