Back in April of 2015, Google officially announced a change to their algorithm. For the first time ever, sites with mobile friendly pages were said to be given a boost in mobile search results once the algorithm update took effect. That also meant that sites that were not mobile friendly could expect to drop in rankings on mobile devices.
The update was officially called the “Mobile-Friendly Update.” But then the Internet did what the Internet does:
Website developers and online marketers panicked as they worked to update their sites to be responsive and pass Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool.
In spite of all the hullabaloo, we didn’t see a whole lot of impact to search results for sites that weren’t particularly mobile friendly. For one, it was only mobile traffic that was affected. So if your site appeared high up in search results on desktop searches, you did not lose that traffic or suffer a drop in rankings, even if your site was not optimized for mobile devices.
Perhaps Google was giving us all a little more time to prepare for what they actually had in store. In November 2016 Google announced Mobile-First Indexing, set to take effect in early 2017.
Understanding Mobile-First Indexing
Mobile-first indexing means that over the next several months Google will rank a website based on how it performs and appears on mobile devices:
Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site.
Mobile-first means that web developers, website owners, and online marketers need to focus audits, recommendations, sitework, and more on the mobile version of a site. Mobile should now be prioritized over desktop.
If you pull out your phone right now, and look up your website, what do you see?
How to Adapt for Mobile-First Indexing
Hopefully you have already done the groundwork of general mobile optimization. That may mean you have a mobile version of your site, or your website is built using a responsive design. It may mean you’ve put energy into improving the speed of your site. All this is great, and aligns with Google’s overall recommendations for mobile friendliness.
There are steps you can take, however, to go further.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
AMP is a way of making content on your site load lightening fast. An AMP page is essentially a super stripped down version of your original page that is hosted by Google.
The following iPhone screen grabs show the difference of an AMP version of a blog post I wrote (top/left), and the original non AMP version in mobile (bottom/right).
You’ll notice the AMP version is very lightweight and is missing many of the design elements and plugins you see on the version hosted on JB Media’s website. Users, especially on mobile, want super fast load times. AMP allows that to happen by getting rid of all the stuff that tends to slow things down.
As a result, the new AMP page is capable of appearing much higher in search results than the non-AMP version:
AMP integration is especially important if you develop a lot of educational content within your blog.
How to Start with AMP
If you have a WordPress site integrating AMP is quite simple. I recommend the AMP WordPress Plugin by Automattic. After you install and setup the plugin it will take time for your AMP pages to show up since Google needs time to recrawl your site and notice them.
You can monitor your indexed AMP pages in your Google Search Console.
Get Rid of Interstitials and Pop-Ups
Back in August 2016, Google announced that websites should refrain from adding interstitials or pop-ups to their mobile pages.
Example of unacceptable pop-up on an ameowzing ecommerce site:
Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.
Be careful in your site marketing and design to ensure that mobile pages are not hindered by intrusive pop-ups that may cause new users to immediately bounce from your site. Think about your own habits. I know how quickly I exit a site when it’s difficult for me to get at the information I wanted.
There are some examples of pop-ups and interstitials that are acceptable. For example, if you have a login section of your website that isn’t crawled it’s okay to have a user login pop-up. Also, if you are legally required to have a permission pop-up that is okay too.
Example of acceptable pop-up on brewilliant website:
Continue to Improve Overall Site Speed
Improving site speed is an ongoing process, and some tasks are easier than others. Fortunately, Google offers recommendations along the way.
The following is a screen grab from JB Media’s Analytics account showing where Google is making recommendations for us to improve the site speed for individual pages.
Take some time to review your overall speed recommendations. Sometimes drastically improving your site speed is as simple as compressing your image files. After you review your speed recommendations consider consulting with your web development team to see how you can improve your scores.
Google has made it clear that they are willing to help us all along this process, and the role out of the mobile-first index will happen slowly over several months. That being said, definitely add mobile considerations to your 2017 marketing plans!