Google indexing changes from desktop to mobile-first

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Mobile-First

Since the end of 2016 Google have been slowly shifting towards mobile-first indexing and the search engine giant recently revealed that by March 2021 mobile-first indexing will be used for every site in their index. Their original plan was to have this in place by September 2020, but the unexpected arrival of a health pandemic delayed the rollout by 6 months.

At the start of 2021 Google stated that around 70% of websites were being crawled via mobile-first indexing. You can check to see if your site is currently included in that figure by going to the Google Search Console/Settings and the crawler will be identified in the ‘About’ section.

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

Desktop versions of websites have always been used by Google’s crawlers for ranking systems. So if you have strong SEO on your desktop website it should perform well as it is given priority over any other device. However, from March 2021 this will all change, with mobile versions being given precedence ahead of desktop versions.

So why are Google switching from desktop to mobile? When you look at the continued growth of searches being made via mobile devices it’s easy to understand why this change is being made.

Consumer changes in online searches

According to digital research company datareportal.com 81% of people search for a product or service online. A further 67% use mobile shopping apps, while 74% of consumers have purchased online using a mobile device. And a whopping 93.87% of people performing searches via a mobile device use Google.

Until mid-2019 desktop and mobile search rates were fairly similar. However, by June of that year mobile searches accounted for over 50%, while desktop usage dropped to 45%. While Google started their shift towards mobile-first indexing in November 2016, they were aware for some time that mobile searches would continue to grow and eventually become the dominant method used by people online.

The past 12 months of the coronavirus pandemic has seen mobile usage increase even further, and the Ericsson Mobility Report predicts that mobile traffic will increase by an additional 25% by 2025.

How to make your website mobile friendly

Before making any changes there are some helpful tools you can use to give you a clearer idea of how mobile friendly your website currently is. Start with Google’s Mobile-Friendly test tool which allows you to run tests to see how ‘friendly’ the pages are, highlighting any potential issues and even giving you a screenshot of what it looks like on a mobile device.

Responsive Design Tool is another useful third-party tool that works in a similar way and will tell you if your website has a responsive design (we explain what that is below).

Use a responsive design

To be mobile friendly your site should be able to respond to any device it is viewed on so it adapts to the new size and configuration. This will mean text and images are rendered without affecting the way consumers interact with your site. Google also recommends this as it will support your SEO efforts. Using Google’s Structured Data Tool to check if you have structured mark-up for mobile and desktop sites and if not, Google will point out any issues that need to be fixed.

Reduce pop-ups and text-blockers

Pop-ups can be extremely frustrating, especially when using a smaller screen. Rather than trying to find the ‘X’ to close it, most visitors will simply leave the site. If the pop-up is important, either put it at the bottom of the page or disable it for mobile usage – losing the customer to a competitor is not worth the risk.

Install a responsive WordPress theme

Most WordPress themes are now responsive as standard, but if you have an old one you should think about updating it so it is mobile-friendly. First of all update the existing theme to see if that does the trick. If not, you may need to switch to a new theme that is responsive. This doesn’t have to cost a fortune as there are quite a few free or low cost options that will do the job very well.   

Ensure pages load quickly

According to Google research it takes 5 seconds for many website pages to load, which can mean losing a customer who will not wait around. To improve page load speed there are a few things you can do such as compressing high-resolution images and ensuring they are uploaded to the correct size. The web hosting plan you use can also have a bit impact. Make sure you are on a plan that suits your requirements and change if you need to.

Simplify the site design

Remove as much clutter as possible to help customers find what they want quickly and easily. Having too much content on the site will also help the page load faster, keeping visitors on the site for longer, lowering bounce rates and increasing conversion rates. This also applies to the menus. Stick to the most important options for the mobile version, making it easier for people to click and find what they need.

Increase button sizes

While a thumb can easily scroll across the screen, if multiple interaction buttons are too small to press or close to each other customers can soon lose patience. If the buttons are related to a CTA they are especially important so test out new sizes on different devices to see which one works best. The more fluid the UX for mobile-first the better it will be for visitors and you should see more engagement in key areas.

Turn off autocorrect features

Autocorrect does have its uses, but on a mobile device it often proves to be more frustrating than not. If you have forms that require people to fill in details, turn the autocorrect feature off for these areas, as the last the customer wants to spend time doing is constantly changing the automatic suggestions thrown up by the system. Adding ‘autocorrect=off’ in the html for the input field should be enough.

Offer a desktop view option

Some visitors prefer to browse the site in desktop mode, especially if they want to see everything you have to offer. It’s good to let them have this option especially for customers who feel more comfortable browsing this way.

Continue testing

Once you have everything in place, you should continue to test the site on mobile devices to ensure everything is running smoothly. This doesn’t have to be done every week or month, but every 2-3 months you should run your eye over the site (or ask employees to do the same) to see if anything stands out that needs to be fixed or improved.

Mobile-First: How can you get started?

Updating your website to be more website friendly may seem like a daunting task, especially if it is not something you have given any consideration to before. If you are a small business without the available time or resources to manage this sort of project knowing where to start can be difficult.

It’s something we’ve helped countless companies to achieve over the past few years, assisting with the design, SEO and updating of small and large websites to make them mobile friendly and better positioned to rank well on search engines. We offer a complete end-to-end mobile website design service, or can help with individual elements of the project. Drop us a line today to see what we can do for your business – contact us.

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