In April of 2015, Google rolled out an algorithm update for their mobile search engine that had a singular purpose of giving priority to websites that was optimized for viewing on smartphones and other mobile devices. Despite only applying to mobile search results, it wasn’t long before webmasters and web developers around the world dub this the mobilegeddon, a portmanteau of the word mobile and Armageddon, making clear just how much apprehension they share in how increasingly dominant mobile devices are when it comes to the internet. It ended up to be mostly much ado about nothing as while the changes are noticeable, it wasn’t substantial enough to warrant all the brouhaha. Fast forward three years later and after at least a year of experimenting, in late March 2018, Google announced the rollout of another update that has been widely tipped to fundamentally change how SEO services are going to work, the mobile-first indexing update.
The future of mobile is the future of online
As its name implies, the mobile-first indexing update aims to prioritize the mobile version of a website, if there’s any available, for the purpose of indexing and ranking. The basic gist is that while it used to be that the desktop version of your site is considered the primary one by Google, it is now the mobile version that is considered the primary page, assuming of course that you have separate versions for your desktop page and mobile page. If your website is practically identical across the two mediums and/or uses a responsive web-design, this change most likely won’t affect you much, if at all. The problem lies when your website is still not optimized for mobile or that you don’t have a separate mobile site as Google will consider your site to be not mobile-friendly and might penalize you for this. Now, as stated in Google’s webmaster blog, this rollout is being implemented in stages, sites that have been affected by this are going to receive a notification in the Search Console so if you still haven’t received that message, then you still have time to implement some changes and/or addition to your site to make this transition as painless as possible. Like the measles outbreak, this might be one of the few times that missing out can actually be a good thing.
Now, how to adapt to this change could be tackled in a few different ways but mainly revolves around two things. First, you need to figure out whether you’re going to optimize your current site for mobile devices or start from scratch with a separate mobile site. After deciding which approach you’d like to take, you still need to make sure that whatever you’ve decided upon is as mobile-friendly as possible. The following is a deeper look into some of the options above and how or when it would be appropriate to use:
- Tackling the issue of mobile optimization
Optimizing for mobile devices could be achieved in three main different ways, responsive web design, adaptive web design and mobile-friendly web design. Think of it this way, you have three different containers, a bucket, a glass and a bottle. A responsive web design would be like water, its fluidity enabling it to fill each container to its full potential. Adaptive web design would be like having a choice of marbles of different sizes for each container. Mobile-friendly web design would be a very small marble filling out all three. It’s a very crude analogy but sufficient to illustrate my point. Responsive web design is obviously the optimum solution as it dynamically reacts to the type of device being used to view the contents but is also being the hardest to develop as the amount of code needed to run the website is considerably complex. Adaptive web design has several different static layouts (not a different URL, mind you) for different screen sizes. It’s not as fluid as responsive web design but not as hard to design and develop as these are still static layouts. Mobile-friendly web design basically makes it so the page is virtually identical across all devices, this usually means simplified web design as it is made with the intention of being as platform-agnostic as possible. Google loves responsive web design as it allows the server to send a single HTML code to any device without sacrificing complexity and it’s always in your interest to be on their good side but if your website isn’t as heavily reliant on content and functionality, it might be best to go for the simpler options.
- Starting from scratch with an alternative mobile website
If you’re not keen on redesigning your website from the ground up, the alternative solution is to create a mobile website with a different URL for mobile devices. While this might seem easier at first, having to manage two different entity for your internet presence can be a monumental task in the long run. New contents and every single change you make to your website has to be ensured to work across the two different version to ensure consistency, which means more and more work as you go along. It’s a good option if redesigning your website might take an inordinate amount of time but I would personally advise against using this other than as a stop-gap solution.
- Putting the finishing touch
Once your work is done, the next step is to make sure that you did a good job. If you’ve created an alternative mobile website, make sure that you add that to the Google Search Console the same way you did with your regular website. Google isn’t going to index your newly, created website if you missed this step. The next step is to make sure just how mobile-friendly your website is in the eyes of Google by testing them. One deals with how easy it is to read, while the other tests how fast it loads with a still-dominant 3G mobile network. If you went with the responsive web design route, it might be quite difficult to score high on the mobile speed test as the complex code might make it slower to load, especially considering the fact that you’re still serving the same amount of content to mobile devices like you would with desktop PCs. Google will provide you with suggested solutions if that was the case so make sure to pay attention.
2015 was the year when mobile searches finally overtook desktop searches, ensuring the arrival of this mobile-first world is only a question of when and not if. SEO services and practitioners have worked under the condition that desktop websites are the primary subject of optimization and with the rollout of this update, we’ve finally entered a world where that is no longer the case. This wasn’t an unexpected development as the Mobilegeddon update have clearly made obvious the direction Google is taking with their search engines, which is to the benefit of mobile users around the world. It’s still remain to be seen just how fundamental this mobile-first indexing update is going to be as it has only been a couple of weeks and Google themselves have stated that it’s going to take a few years until we arrived completely at a mobile-first indexing world but what’s clear is that this changes how SEO services are going to work, the only questions are just how much and how have you prepared for this?