An Overview of Mobile-First Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of setting up one’s website so that it appears as close to the top of search engine results as possible. SEO has been around since 1997 and as we all know, a lot has changed technologically since the late 90s. This includes the way that the average consumer uses the internet. The majority of internet users now access the web from a mobile device, and approximately 60 percent of all Google searches are now conducted on mobile.
What does this mean for domain owners who hope to have their website rank #1 in Google’s search results? Mobile optimization is key.
Google’s Mobile-First Index
In 2016, Google announced that it had a plan in place to eventually switch over to a “mobile-first” index. According to an article from TechCrunch, that plan officially started rolling out in the spring of 2018, after the company had spent two years researching and testing this new system with a handful of websites. The mobile-first index essentially replaced Google’s previous index, which is the way that Google’s algorithms view, and thus rank, a website.
This means that when Google’s almighty algorithm looks at your website, it’s looking at the mobile version and considers the mobile version to be the main version – not the full desktop site. When the mobile-first methodology was introduced earlier this year, Google claimed that this new index would not “directly” impact a website’s search results ranking but that mobile-friendly sites would likely “perform better” in mobile search results.
So basically, you don’t have to make your website mobile friendly, but Google strongly suggests that you do. And why wouldn’t you want to listen to Google, the company that basically owns the internet?
Optimizing for the Mobile-First Index
In order to comply to Google’s mobile-first index, you should first do some research. Be sure that you understand the way that the index works and how it could affect your particular website.
In this handy guide to SEO in 2019, Backlinko suggests that step one in the mobile optimization process should be ensuring that all the content currently on your desktop site is also available on your mobile site. An internet user should be able to access all information on a website regardless of what type of device they’re accessing it from.
Comparing your desktop and mobile sites may require you to seriously consider whether or not all the information currently on your desktop site is actually necessary. When I worked at Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis in the spring of 2018, the organization was in the early stages of switching to a different website that would be more mobile- and user-friendly. One of the tasks that my supervisor and I accomplished was combing through their current website and creating a site map for every page and every link. We found that a lot of content did not necessarily need to exist on the site because it was not relevant to site visitors and could either be deleted or archived on the organization’s internal server. We made the decision to cut a lot of that content out, which will make the transition to a more condensed, mobile-friendly site much easier for the organization.
Once you’ve weeded out unnecessary content and matched up your desktop site to your mobile site, it’s important that you determine whether or not your website is actually mobile friendly. As the aforementioned Backlinko guide points out, a website can be technically available from a mobile device without actually being easy to use. Google actually has a tool that lets you test your mobile site.
Why Search Engine Optimization Matters
If you’re a business owner, research clearly indicates that the majority of your customer base has a preference for mobile-friendly websites. As I mentioned earlier, the majority of people now access the internet from the mobile device. In 2016, Internet Retailer found that 60 percent of global consumers use their mobile device as their primary or exclusive internet source. I would be willing to bet that percentage has continued to increase and is even higher in 2018.
The bottom line is that if your business does not have an easy-to-navigate mobile site, it will not rank as high in Google search results and thus will be more difficult for potential customers to find. As Constant Contact puts it, “If you don’t capitalize on mobile behavior, you may lose business to your competitors who have embraced this new reality.”