5 Steps to Get Ready for Google’s Mobile-First Index Now

greenwood marinaGoogle search results will soon change forever. Since last year, when the search engine giant first announced its Mobile-First Index, marketers have scrambled to understand just what it means, and how they can prepare their online presence for a world of mobile dominance.

As of right now, we know that Google plans to introduce its major algorithm update in early 2018. When the update rolls out, all search results, regardless of the device from which you access the website, will be arranged according to their mobile-friendliness.

In other words, only websites that are friendly to and easily accessible from mobile devices will rank highly on Google. Considering that 60 percent of all searches on the website came from mobile devices a year ago, it’s a reasonable switch to make.

That said, it also means that your website might need to adjust. Put simply, you do not want to put your business in a situation where the Mobile-First Index rolls around, and your website suddenly drops in search results. Here are 6 steps that can help you prevent that scenario from happening.

1) Don’t Panic

First, it’s important to take a breath. Unlike Mobilegeddon, which took the digital marketing world by storm a few years ago, this is not a sudden update that could be here before you know it. In fact, Google is pushing back the release of the new algorithm update to 2018 specifically to keep marketers involved.

As Google webmaster trends analyst Gary Illyes put it during a recent SEO conference,

We want to communicate a lot with publishers about the mobile-first index, and not let them get surprised by it… You have lots of time to make these changes to your site.

The time to start preparing is now. But you can do so feeling confident that by the time the update goes live, your website will be well-prepared.

2) Focus on Responsive Design

The single most important step, if you have not already done so, is to build or rebuild your website in a responsive design structure. Note that this step does not mention ‘mobile design.’ In reality, mobile-first does not mean mobile only, so your online presence needs to function equally well regardless of device type and screen size your audience uses.

With responsive design, you can accomplish just that. Google has long preferred this method as the most mobile-friendly option, specifically because it doesn’t require you to duplicate your site for mobile formats. Instead, it gets converted and adjusts dynamically based on screen size, with content remaining equally readable and navigable from smartphone devices and large desktop screens. If your website is not already responsive, now is the time to start the process of converting it.

3) Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test

Naturally, Google will focus on its own measures of what makes a mobile-friendly website when adjusting its rankings once the Mobile-First Index rolls out. Fortunately, a simple tool allows you to spot exactly how your website currently performs within these guidelines.

The search engine’s internal Mobile-Friendly Test requires nothing more than your website’s core URL. Once you enter it, you can download a usability report that will include a number of indicators that tell you exactly where your website performs well on mobile devices, and where it does not.

Even if you already have a responsively designed website, some technical issues may still occur that prevent a flawless user experience. After running the test, you will know exactly what to fix.

4) Fix Any Technical Issues

Based on both Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and your own indicators, you can now build a plan on the technical issues with your site you need to fix before the algorithm update rolls out to the general public. These technical problems may include, but are not limited to:

  • Page load speed, which will become especially important for mobile users.
  • Noindex tags, which should only occur on pages you specifically don’t want to be available in search results (such as thank you pages).
  • Faulty redirects, which can prevent users from landing on the pages they intend to visit.

Of course, technical issues may not be limited to these three examples. But making sure your fix here is in place early will be vital for a successful Mobile-First rollout.

5) Stay on the Lookout for Future Updates

We haven’t heard the end of pre-rollout updates from Google. In his talk, Illyes promised plenty of updates to web developers and marketers as Google works out the kinks of Mobile-First and reaches clarity on which indicators will matter most.

As a result, it makes sense to check back in with these topics periodically. Even if you work on fixing the above issues or a new responsively designed website, new tips could appear that can offer further guidance. Google’s plan is open communication before rolling out the Index, which means all marketers have to do is listen.

6) Find a Reliable SEO Partner

Finally, especially if you need external help in accomplishing the above steps, find a reliable web design and SEO company you can partner with to be ready for the rollout of Google’s Mobile-First Index in early 2018. That way, you can ensure that by the time the update goes live, your site doesn’t suffer (and might even benefit) from the changes.

At the same time, it also makes sense to view the update outside of its own purpose. Consider the reason Google is rolling it out: mobile internet usage is now outpacing its desktop counterpart. That means not just your website, but your entire digital marketing strategy needs to be optimized for mobile devices. To find a partner that can prepare you for the Mobile-First Index, and to work with you throughout the process, contact us.