How to Optimize Your SEO for the Mobile-First Index

Google’s main goal is to provide the best possible results to a search query. And since most users rely on mobile devices for the majority of their online activities, Google’s focus is on catering to the needs of the ever growing number of mobile users. In the past years, Google has released several updates aimed at making the web better for mobile consumers, but now, it took its game up a notch by rolling out a mobile-first version of its index.

There’s no choice for website owners but to adapt to the mobile-trend in order to maintain traffic and ranking because the new index will split the desktop and mobile results, and if your website is not prepared for the change, you could be in for hard times. Mobile will become the primary index and mobile searches will no longer show results for desktop, and vice versa.

If you have a desktop and not a mobile version of your site, or different mobile and desktop versions, you should be concerned and address these issues as fast as possible, or before the mobile-first index is fully released. The first step is to create a fully-functional mobile website. Next comes SEO in a mobile-first index.

Let’s take a look at what you can do to improve your mobile website’s SEO. But to make things easier, and so you don’t have to do everything on your smartphone, open your website in a desktop browser and view the mobile version. You can do this by right-clicking on the site, and choosing the “inspect” option, then, you can toggle between desktop and mobile in the upper left corner of the menu.

 

1. Perform the Google Mobile Friendliness Test

First of all, you need to check if your website can pass the Google Mobile Friendliness Test. Begin with your key navigation pages, and your highest selling category and product pages, one by one. Take a look at the “No Mobile Configuration” section to see which pages you need to focus on first. If you still don’t have a mobile site, responsive site or AMP pages, start implementing them right away. Or, if you can, go for a responsive website design. But remember, pages without mobile optimization can badly impact your performance in the SERP.  

 

2. Check whether your Mobile Pages are Indexed

You’ll have to do this check on a smartphone. And to make sure Google is indexing your mobile pages, open Google and in the search box type: “site:visiblefactors.com”. If there are no results for your site, Googlebot may be unable to access the mobile pages. If you are using separate mobile and desktop site, and Googlebot is not indexing your mobile pages, we recommend you create and submit a mobile sitemap. Tag the mobile pages with the rel=canonical and rel=alternate tags.  Googlebot might not be indexing mobile pages because of the separate mobile and desktop URLs, but this should do the trick. But, if you don’t have separate URLs, double-check the robot.txt file and make sure you are not blocking Googlebot.

3. Look for Smartphone Errors in Google Search Console

For this step, go to Google Search Console, Crawl Errors, and choose Smartphone. The errors you identify here can help guide your strategy. Analyze each error and deal with it in the right manner. One common mistake that shows up frequently though, is a faulty redirect. Make sure you have matching smartphone and desktop URLs, so users (and Googlebot) get sent to the right page. When you fix the smartphone errors you allow Google to index your content better.  

4. Change Your On-site SEO Optimization for Mobile

Mobile and desktop on-site optimization differ. For example, title tags on mobile are shorted than those on desktop. Keep in mind that you need to create good user experience, and that includes good on-site optimization, from title tags, to headers. The simplest way to address this issue is by using Screaming Frog. Run the check, then go over the “Page Titles” mane at the top. Get all results for “Over 65 Characters”, and download the data. Rewrite the longer meta titles, and repeat the same procedure for meta descriptions as well. Make sure all of them are shorter and mobile friendly. And for the headings, you can opt for slightly reducing the size for a better mobile UX. Also, run a check with Google’s robot.txt testing tool to make sure you are not blocking Googlebot.  

 

5. Improve Page Load Times

Mobile page load speed can be a crucial UX factor, and load times longer than 4 seconds can make visitors leave. To test your page load times, you can use a lot of free tools, like PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom. Just open your website and run the speed test. Depending on the result, there might be several things to consider. But the simplest optimization you can do, without help from a development team, is optimizing image size. Next, if that doesn’t help much, have your dev team reduce code, add browser cache, manage plug-ins. And lastly, see if your web designer can move more content above the fold.

6. Mobile and Desktop Content Should be a Perfect Match

In order to cross-check and compare your mobile and desktop website, you will have to do it manually. Pull up a list of your most visited and highest performing pages from Google Analytics, then open each page, one by one on desktop and your smartphone. Also, check and scan your code for any inconsistencies. If you find pages with more content on desktop than the mobile version or vice versa, go over them with your editorial and development team to redesign them. It’s advisable to have a completed content audit before you do this so you’ll know what content can and can’t be removed, without hurting traffic. To make sure Google sees your web pages the same way you and your users do, use Google Search Console’s Fetch and Render, and choose mobile user agent from the menu. That way you’ll get to see two pages, side-by-side, and you’ll know whether your content looks the same to Googlebot and your users. Remember that Google ranks content only from the mobile site, and uses the canonical links as guides for users searching from desktop or mobile. So be careful when you making the redesign.

7. Make Sure To Add Structured Data to Your Mobile Pages

While many webmasters skip adding structured data to mobile sites, in the mobile-first index, if you want to keep it, you’ll have to add it to the mobile pages manually. If you already have a responsive website, then your schema should do it. But if you have separate mobile and desktop sites with different URLs, you will have to make sure you followed all the necessary steps for mobile, as you would for your desktop site. Double-check with the Google Structured Testing Tool if your schema markup has been added correctly to your mobile site. Use the “Inspect” function to make sure it’s coming up on mobile devices. Make sure to update all URLs you use in the schema, but be careful not to drown your site in structured data. And if you use a plugin for structured data, use a testing tool to make sure the displayed markup is correct.

8. Launch AMP if You Still Don’t Have Mobile Pages

If you still didn’t have a chance to create mobile pages for your website, then create AMP versions of your pages – it’s the easiest way to get Google to index them. But if you have a m.mobile site, and the content of your AMP page is full and different from the one on the m.mobile site, Google will rank he m.mobile site above your AMP page, and you won’t rank for the keywords included in the full content. Also, you can’t rank higher if you have a mobile version and an AMP version of a page. Google will rank the desktop version of the page instead. If you set up AMP pages, you can easily check them on your smartphone by trying to open a specific page from your website. If you see the small AMP symbol – the gray lightning bolt next to the result, you’re good. You can also do a check-up on your desktop, by viewing the source and searching for rel=”amphtml” or by using the AMP Chrome extension in order to switch between the regular and the AMP versions. And in order to do a final check on whether you implemented AMP pages correctly and get suggestions on how to fix any problems you might have, use the AMP testing tool.

9. Check Your Subdomains Using the Google Search Console

If you already have a responsive website, then skip this part 🙂 But if your website uses subdomains such as m.visibleactors.com or visiblefactorsmobile.com, than you need to verify them in Google Search Console. First, open your Google Search Console account and click the “Add Property” button, and add your subdomains. Next, after you upload your subdomains, Google will send you notifications about your mobile site to let you know if you have smartphone errors, manual actions, if you’re blocking Googlebot, or basically if there are any issues with your site. Beware that Google treats subdomains as separate sites so pay attention to all notifications you receive and make sure to fix all problems.

 

The challenges for SEO-teams become even greater when you need to adapt your SEO-efforts to the upcoming mobile-first index and prepare your website for the upcoming change as fast as you can. And maintaining a dedicated mobile site, if you still don’t have a responsive one, is vital if you want to stay afloat in the mobile-first index, at least for the time being. The rollout will be global, and all websites will face the same constrictions, there’s no escape. So make sure to be prepared when it happens.     

 

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