Managing Google’s Mobile-First Update

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Craig Smith  |  Founder & CEO

Last November, Google rolled out a new mobile-first index. This means that websites will be evaluated based on their mobile site first instead of their desktop page — even if the user is browsing via desktop. This confirmed what we’ve been saying and working toward over the past year: it’s not enough to just have a mobile website, you need to have an optimized website that can compete just as strongly as your desktop one.

Here’s what you can expect from Google’s mobile first change and how you can capitalize on it.

Why Did This Occur?

While Google might seem like an omnipresent entity that can make whatever changes it likes, it’s actually chained to the will of the people. As user behavior continues to evolve, Google has to keep up to provide the best results possible. (We also saw this with Google’s “Possum” update, which adjusted the local algorithm to serve more relevant listing to customers.)

More people than ever explore the web via their mobile phones, whether through a direct search engine or through traffic-drivers like Facebook, so the average Internet-user is already mobile-first. Sure they might switch to their desktops to make a large purchase or fill out a sensitive form, but they’re addicted to their phones above all else. Google simply adjusted its product offering to match how its customers search. This in turn requires businesses to comply with Google’s new preferences, or risk losing their traffic and audience base to a competitor who already has.

How Can Your Company Make the Most of It?

The brands that have the opportunity to benefit most from this update already have mobile responsive websites. Instead of using different desktop and mobile websites (with the mobile pages offering a slimmed down version of the original), responsive pages have the same exact content regardless of how their accessed. However, if mobile responsiveness isn’t an option at this time, there are still ways to format your website in a way that appeals to Google’s algorithm and satisfies customers.

1. Increase the Speed On Your Mobile Pages

We discussed the importance of speed in the mobile world before. Almost 50 percent of consumers expect their mobile pages to load in two seconds or less, and 40 percent bounce when it takes more than three seconds to load. Google’s mobile-first index means you need to be able to meet customer expectation with your mobile performance. Try to reduce bulky images, files, and plugins that slow down your website on mobile in order to increase performance. This way you can focus on the content and avoid speed penalties.

Look at the data below from eMarketer to see how mobile load times impact your conversion rate.

2. Place Important Content Above the Fold

As you create content for your mobile pages, make sure the most important information is above the fold. Primarily, this will create a positive first impression for your audiences because they’re able to get the answers they’re looking for immediately, thus decreasing your bounce rate. Next, this allows Google to immediately identify valuable information when it’s crawling your website, which in turn allows your page to be served for relevant queries.

If you’re still worried about this update, consider creating pages and optimizing for Google’s Quick Answer Box, which allows content to get shared at the top of the page (shown below). We created a guide to create content for this tool, which shows up almost a third of the time. The same concepts can be applied when creating mobile-optimized content with important information above the fold.

3. It’s Okay to Hide Content Behind Tabs

If you’re looking to increase the speed and usability of your mobile site, consider using tabs to hide your content so it loads faster. Originally this was cardinal sin of SEO, as Google never gave content behind tabs and barriers full weight. However, Gary Illyes recently said that content hidden behind tabs will be given full weight and indexed in the mobile-first world. This means you can still publish long-form content on your website without worrying about page load speed.

Mashable is a great example of is with their recent adoption of “read more” tabs. The page loads almost immediately and audience can read the content above the fold, and then click to access the rest when they would normally be clicking to scroll anyway. The user is only minimally inconvenienced, and benefits outweigh the cost.

4. Optimize for Local Search Results

If you feel like you’re unable to compete on a large scale within your industry, consider creating content and optimizing your website for local results. Google has been working to improve its local listings as its 3-Pack becomes a more common sight in the results. It’s possible for you to target your audience on a neighborhood level, where there is less competition and more of an opportunity for branding.

You don’t have to be a small mom-and-pop store to take advantage of local SEO. National chains with locations across the country can still optimize on a local level by creating individualized pages for each location and creating content for them. Again, as you create more content for local pages, keep mobile in mind by placing our information strategically. It’s okay if you can’t redesign your website now, but you can create a positive mobile experience moving forward.

What Should You Expect?

There is good news for companies who get nervous whenever there are algorithm and indexing changes, and for companies that worry about their website’s mobile design and performance: Google expects this update to have a minimal effect on the rankings overall.

However, this does point to the continual shift that Google and the world is making toward mobile search results. You should constantly strive to improve your mobile experience and look for ways to optimize your speed, content, and overall experience. To learn more about our optimization solutions for brands and mobile commerce, please contact us for a discovery conversation.

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