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For a number of years, Google has been putting a lot of effort into its mobile-first indexing movement, enabling it initially on the sites that it had already crawled and then enabling it by default for every new site.
The initial plan from Google was to ensure that mobile-first indexing was fully enabled for every website in Search by September 2020 but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it was decided that the timeframe should be extended to March 2021.
Although this deadline has now passed, not every website has, as yet, been fully optimised for mobile-first indexing, so here we take a closer look at some of the things that developers and site owners can do to prepare sites more effectively. We will also give advice on how to guard against site ranking dropping significantly now that the new algorithm change has been implemented and rolled out across all websites on the net.
Mobile first indexing means that websites are now ranked by how mobile friendly they are. This means that a website must offer an equally excellent experience to users on mobile devices as it does for those who are using a desktop PC.
The text and images should be equally visible and attractive on the small screen and the site should be equally speedy to load so that users on smartphones and tablets can enjoy a pleasant and speedy experience, just as they would if they were visiting the same website on their laptop or desktop PC.
Mobile-first indexing means that information about a website can only be found from its mobile version. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that Googlebot is able to see the complete content as well as all of the resources there. Some things to pay close attention to include:
Some resources will have a different URL on their mobile version than on their desktop version, and sometimes they’ll be served on a different host. It’s important to ensure that you don’t disallow crawling of those URLs with the robots.txt file. If the URLs of .css files are blocked, Googlebot won’t be able to render the pages correctly and this harms page ranking in Search.
When mobile versions have less content than the desktop version you may want to think about updating the mobile version so its primary content is equivalent as only the content on the mobile site is used to index and rank in search.
By using meaningful and clear headings on the mobile version that are identical to those on your desktop version this will ensure that your page remains visible in Search as it will be able to be fully understood.
It’s important to ensure the videos and images on the mobile version adhere to video and image best practices. Ensure that you’ve carried out checks into:
Image quality – avoid using any images which have a low resolution or are too small on mobile versions.
Alt attributes – use meaningful alt attributes to ensure that your images aren’t negatively affected.
Image URLs – use the same image URLs on both your mobile and desktop versions.
Video markup – ensure that the mobile version of your site uses the same VideoObject as your desktop version.
Placement of images and videos – images and videos must be position in a location that it simple to find on mobile devices. Make sure that ads aren’t at the page top on the mobile version since this can take up most of the page and cause videos to be moved down, requiring the user to scroll significantly further down the page to find your video. This will leave the page not being deemed as a useful page for video landing by the Google algorithms so the video won’t be shown in Google Search.
It’s fair to say that mobile-first indexing is something that has progressed considerably over the past few years, and it is something that will only continue to advance and become more important with every year that passes.
It has become clear that more people are using mobile devices than ever before when it comes to carrying out Google searches, and therefore it makes sense for Google to adjust its criteria for ranking to ensure that mobile-first is highly considered among the many factors that are borne in mind when determining quality websites.
In just a few years, the internet has evolved towards mobile from desktop-first, and webmasters have taken pains to allow indexing and crawling in a way that matches the way in which users interact with the internet accordingly.
It’s absolutely essential, therefore, for all site owners and developers to keep the best practices for mobile-first firmly in mind when creating new websites and when giving old pages an overhaul to bring them up to date for today’s modern crawling era.
Since mobile-first indexing is now an integral part of Google’s algorithm it’s essential for any site owner or developer who has not yet taken it onboard to embrace the change and get to work to audit their websites and make the necessary adjustments before they notice any major drops in their search traffic and ranking drops.