In 2016, Google announced “Mobile-First Index” would be coming. Desktop computers have been around a lot longer than smart phones and tablets, so the desktop version of your website is often thought of as the “main” or default version, with the mobile version being an afterthought. Right now, that’s accurate — the bots at Google currently crawl and save the desktop computer version of a website first, meaning Google views and saves this version of your website for quick retrieval to use in search results. This won’t be the case for long, however. With the switch to “Mobile-First Index,” Google will focus first and foremost on the mobile version of your website — collecting, parsing, and storing that data first. By itself this change should not affect ranking (that mess happened with the Mobilegeddon of 2015 and 2016), but it may change the user experience, especially if different or less information appears on your mobile site.
Google’s switch to focus on mobile is reactive, a response to real life trends. Starting in 2015, more searches have happened on mobile than on desktop computers in 10 major countries, including the United States. The majority of smart phone owners who have an immediate need will turn to their phone’s search feature first. As this happens more and more, the more important your mobile website becomes for SEO (so people can find you) and for user experience (so visitors convert to buying your goods and services). Google’s primary goal has always been to give its users a positive experience — after all, that’s why users keep coming back — and if the mobile version of your website isn’t easy to navigate and super fast to load with high quality content, Google will not want to show it.
During Mobilegeddon, when Google started penalizing sites based on how they performed on mobile devices, we changed the way we thought about the websites we had and the websites we wanted to have. At RSPR, we’ve been perfecting our own system of “Mobile-First Web Design” where navigation menus are intuitively constructed, photos are carefully sized down and themes are chosen for minimum load times, and website text is written and arranged to communicate useful information and keep visitors on site.
The switch to Mobile-First Index probably will happen some time in 2018, which means right now is the time to make sure you have one responsive site instead of two separate sites. Responsive design continues to be the best way to go because the website will respond automatically to the size of the device, showing the appropriate website to the user. Having two distinct versions of your site (website.com and m.website.com) is extra work and can actually hurt your SEO because 1) there’s a duplicate content problem, 2) if you’re lucky enough to get some awesome websites linking to you, they’re only linking to one version of your website, which diffuses the SEO benefit, and 3) when Mobile-First Index begins, there will be some display problems when Google provides the separate mobile site to desktop users.
Where should you begin? You can check what Google thinks of your site’s mobile friendliness here: search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly. Call or email us to discuss how to make your website work for you.