This post was originally published on the 9th October 2018 and it has been updated since then.
Mobile-first indexing is alive and well these days, with majority of online visits around the world now taking place on mobile devices.
When doing Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO), making sure your site gets healthy amounts of traffic is important to make any experimentation valid and relevant.
As users expect websites to be on par with the best digital experiences they ever had, there are some key tips to implement in 2020.
What is mobile-first indexing?
Essentially, mobile-first indexing means that a different kind of search bot visits your site to index it. Rather than seeing the desktop version of your website, this bot only accesses the mobile version of your site. The expectation is to see a website optimised for viewing on a mobile Android device.
Below are the key steps you can take to ensure that Google sees your website favourably.
The first step to maintaining or improving your ranking is to optimise your website so it’s easily accessible on mobile devices. Making your site responsive is the most common and arguably the most SEO-safe way of achieving it. Responsiveness means that your website layout adjusts to every screen size automatically without changes in URLs or HTML code. You don’t need to make any special accommodations for mobile or desktop as you grow your site with more content.
There are a few other ways of achieving mobile-friendly websites. Each has their pros and cons.
One alternative is dynamic serving. It means that before your pages are loaded, the type of device needs to be detected. Once it is identified, different HTML codes are served on mobile and on desktop. Another option is showing separate mobile URLs. With this approach, both page code and URL will change for mobile and desktop users.
Finally, one other solution is to use a Google service called AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) that allows you to create mobile pages that are ultra-slim and extra fast.
Whichever option you choose, you should ensure that you don’t limit the mobile experience for users. The content you provide should be the same for all audiences. With mobile-first indexing, this will ensure that search bots are able to see and index your content.
Once you’ve selected the technology to deliver your mobile-optimised pages, you need to triple check that your website has all the on-page SEO in place. It’s easier with a responsive website as your pages keep all of the same attributes and features in both desktop and mobile. With the other approaches, you may need to pay more attention to your meta tags, headings, page loading, etc.
With mobile-first indexing, if your pages are not as good on mobile as they are on desktop, you may expect your ranking to suffer.
Rich snippets shown in Google search results pages are a great way to increase your click-through rates. Ensure that your structured data is present in both the desktop and the mobile version of your site. Use Google’s rich results testing tool to ensure your URLs is valid.
Hreflang tags are used to indicate alternate versions of your content for different countries and languages. If you have an international website that uses separate mobile URLs, make sure your hreflang tags on mobile point to the mobile versions of your international pages.
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Pagination helps users navigate through long lists of links on a website. You may use pagination to list blog articles or your products. You need to be wary of the fact that even in responsive websites, pagination experience might be different on desktop and on mobile. Mobile environments may use infinite scroll (where extra content is only loaded when the user scrolls to the bottom of the screen) or limit the number of links shown – completely disregarding results beyond page one of your listing.
With mobile-first indexing, a lack of pagination, or the wrong implementation, could mean that Googlebot won’t see beyond the first page of paginated content. If Googlebot can’t see it, it can’t be crawled and could eventually drop out of Google’s index entirely.
The key is to ensure that Googlebot is able to crawl and index all of your pages on mobile. To help the process, you may use pagination meta tags to indicate paginated content. These are the rel=prev and rel=next tags that you you can attach to the different pages listing your content.
Internal link structure
Both people and bots navigate through your content using links. When bots crawl a website, they essentially look for links to follow.
Mobile-first indexing still relies on internal links to complete a crawl.
It’s often the case that the mobile experience on a website is different to the desktop experience. For the benefit of user-friendly UX, a mobile version of a website may contain fewer links than its desktop counterpart. This means a potential threat to some links being crawled. You need to consider your internal link structure on mobile very carefully when making UX decisions about links.
To ensure your pages get crawled, you may want to use a crawling tool like DeepCrawl that lets you compare mobile and desktop crawls to make sure your important pages are still seen as valuable with mobile-first indexing.
Another thing worth noting is that the way your pages are linked together also determines how important they are considered within your website structure. Google place more value on prominent links that real users are likely to click. Contrarily, links that are “hidden” within the content, e.g. footer links, are given less gravity when indexing content.
If you have important pages on your website that you want Google to see, make sure they are prominent on mobile and easy to click by a user.
The robots.txt file is an important way to communicate with bots that visit your site. It includes commands that guide robots as to what content to visit. If your mobile website lives on a subdomain, e.g. m.example.co.uk, make sure your robots.txt file has the same rules as on desktop to avoid any confusion.
Incorrect redirects can be a source of problems for indexing content. If your website has a different URL structure on mobile than it does on desktop, make sure your redirects are all pointing in the right direction and there are the right types of redirects for your special circumstances.
Again, DeepCrawl or another crawling tool can highlight any areas of concern.
If you’re a website owner in 2020, waste no time in applying the best practice above. Have no illusion that Google will want to see your site mobile first and this is what will help you get better rankings online.