The release of the mobile first index has been greatly anticipated in the SEO industry since early 2015, but it now appears to be closer than ever. Over the past 6 months, Google have been strongly focusing on mobile SEO, providing key tips on how to make sure your website is mobile friendly and which key areas to prioritise.
What is the mobile first index?
The mobile first index means that the mobile version of your website becomes the priority over the desktop version, becoming the main indicator in determining ranking performance. Therefore, if your website is not mobile friendly or you don’t have a mobile site, your organic visibility could be negatively impacted.
However, the mobile first index is not just there to index mobile versions of websites. If your website doesn’t have a mobile version, Google will still index the desktop version, however by not having a mobile version, visibility will be impacted.
To summarise, Google will now see your mobile website as the primary version so it’s vital that this site is user friendly, fast and provides a good user experience.
Key areas to focus on to ensure your mobile site is fully optimised include:
Meta data – Ensure your mobile pages have optimised meta data, including page titles, descriptions and header tags. The desktop version of a site has been the priority until now, so it’s important to copy over your meta data to your mobile website. The optimum length for a page title is 78 characters, with meta descriptions a maximum of 300 characters. A useful tool to ensure your meta data is an optimum length can be found here.
Hidden content – Make sure you do not hide any content from Google on your mobile site. After all, you’ve spent a long time producing this authoritative content – why would you want to hide it? Your mobile site is the primary version, therefore by displaying all of your rich content to the user, this will maximise your chances of ranking well for your target keywords.
There has been much discussion on this topic but John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google stated that:
‘If something is relevant to the pages, then it’s probably relevant to the user too. If it’s critical content, it should be visible’.
Stop the popups – Popups can be irritating for a user with sites already experiencing a negative downfall from the 2016 Fred update. Mobile users do not want to encounter popups as they offer a poor user experience. Time on page and bounce rate are slight ranking signals for Google, therefore if popups are active, your visibility could drop.
Fetch mobile, not just desktop – When producing new content or if you’ve made major changes to your website, it’s important to ‘Fetch as Mobile Smartphone’, not just desktop. This allows crawlers to visit your mobile site and understand the content immediately, thus improving your chances of ranking for your respective target keyword.
Clickable elements – Small or tightly packed links or buttons are complex for users to accurately press on a touchscreen than a traditional desktop mouse. You should make sure your most important tap targets (possible call to actions) on your site are large enough and easy to press.
Content width – It’s important to contain your content within its view port and ensure users do not horizontally scroll. This is a common error where websites have an optimised desktop version but have not yet optimised for mobile, causing user experience to become problematic.
Smaller header images – Mobile users are becoming increasingly impatient and want their answers immediately. Large header images can cause disruption in the user journey and encourage users to leave the website. If you have large header images, reduce their size.
Structured data – Don’t forget to apply structured data where you can on your website. This is very much industry dependent and what service or products you offer, however there are types which you can implement, such as local business, organisation and event. Do not overload or misuse structured data on your website as you could be penalised with a structured data penalty. We recommend using the Structured Data testing tool to test and verify your schema markup codes.
Mobile speed – This is one of the most important elements of effective mobile SEO and is the most common element which websites suffer from. Mobile users continue to be impatient, therefore it’s important for your website to render quickly and efficiently. There are many tools out there to help, including:
Google Analytics also has a useful section on page speed suggestions. Visit behaviour>site speed>suggestions
The key recommendations that tend to improve mobile speed are:
- Compressing images
- Reducing server response time
Search Console insights – Google Search Console is a useful tool for many SEO areas, especially mobile. The ‘mobile usability’ section provides great insight into how Googlebot crawls your website and what errors they encounter. Visit Search Analytics > Mobile Usability.
Mobile friendly testing tool – This is a good place to start or finish and shows you whether your page is mobile friendly to users and crawlers.
There are various tools and guides at your disposal for optimising the mobile performance of your site. Try not to invest all of your efforts into one tool as you may be restricting yourself and missing out on some important issues that another tool might identify.
Mobile is now the most dominant traffic channel with an average 60:40 split, so now is the time to ensure your mobile site is performing at its optimum level.