How will Google’s mobile first indexing impact your SEO campaigns?

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When publishing on the web, it’s not uncommon for marketers to serve different content between their mobile and desktop pages. However, the issue here is that Google ranks websites using a desktop crawl for all of their searches regardless of the device being used.

Whilst this has no effect on those searching the web through a desktop device, it can cause a significant problem for those searching on mobiles and tablets with many users on mobile search selecting results that appear to answer what they’ve searched for, yet are unable to find what they’re looking for once they’ve visited the site. 

This problem occurs due to a lack of consistency in content between the two types of site pages.

Now, as mobile search overtakes desktop with over 50% of searches being made from mobile devices, Google are cracking down and changing the way it ranks websites to enhance its mobile search results by switching to a mobile search index.

The change means that websites who fail to produce the same content on both their mobile and desktop sites will be impacted the most. As the search engine prepares to switch from indexing desktop versions of pages to making mobile their primary index.

Google’s mobile first update is set to demote websites that serve different or abbreviated content on mobile whilst serving more indepth and detailed versions of that content on desktop.

Marketers should avoid adding large amounts of markup and take out any extra schemas that are irrelevant to the content of their pages

This is to make sure mobile websites are ranked based only on the content they’re actually supplying and mobile users are being directed to sites containing exactly what they’ve searched for.

Whilst the update is inevitably coming, the industry is yet to be provided with a date for when it will take effect or how to prepare for the transition. In order to fully understand and be better prepared for the consequences of the update, marketers need to begin adopting mobile first strategies before the index changes take effect.  

Serving content

Once Google officially switches to a mobile first index, sites on mobile will only be ranked for the content they provide on their mobile pages, rather than showing results that can only be found on the desktop equivalent.

Marketers who show less content on their mobile sites are at risk of not only losing rankings on long tail keywords for content that only appears on a desktop page, but also risk a loss in search traffic, if the desktop content that’s absent from their mobile site is they’re being ranked well for in Google.

This will ultimately threaten a sites positioning and authority in the SERPs (search engine results pages).  

In order to escape penalisation from this update, marketers need to ensure their content is consistent for all users across all devices to maintain search rankings.

This will entail creating content that suits and corresponds with both the desktop and mobile version of a page in order to improve their user’s experience.

Many may find it easier to amend or completely remove versions of pages that don’t correspond with each other in order to avoid losing their placings in the serps.

Recognising that ‘full fat’ content may not work as well for user experience on mobile devices Google have stated that content placed behind tabs or accordions would not result in the content being devalued. Something they have said in the past affected desktop search.

Structured data

Marketers use structured data to help enable a search engine to understand their website’s content, to ensure it’s discoverable and to increase visibility. However the more markup used on a mobile site, the slower the page will load in a browser.

This leads marketers to remove markup from mobile versions of pages in order to make them lighter and speed up load time.

The issue is that once Google switches to a mobile first index, the structured data for your pages in mobile search results will not be visible. Which could cause your web page's visibility and rich snippets to disappear.

Google recommends adding the missing structured data back into the mobile page but at a reduced percentage.

Marketers should avoid adding large amounts of markup and take out any extra schemas that are irrelevant to the content of their pages and Google’s search results. This will ultimately help keep mobile page load times as quick and efficient as possible.  

Going mobile?

For those marketers who are in the midsts of launching a mobile version of their desktop website, they may wish to hold off. The update can be implemented at any given moment, whether that’s tomorrow or even four months from now.

So if you’re building, or planning to build a mobile site strategy ensure it is finished before releasing it.  

A fully functional desktop site is better than an incomplete or broken mobile version. To avoid losing your place in both mobile and desktop rankings it is better to remain using a desktop site, rather than launching an unfinished mobile one.

Spend the time behind the scenes building up your mobile site making sure the content you’re providing is fully accessible to the mobile user and coincides exactly with what you’re producing on your desktop version.  

It’s also worth taking note that not every website has a mobile version, and Google will still index the desktop version of those pages. Don’t think you need to try and quickly push out a mobile version for this update -  just ensure the content on those pages are fully accessible. You can test if your website is accessible with Google’s testing tool.

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