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Mobile-First Indexing: Now That It Has Rolled Out, What Should You Do?

Mobile-first indexing has clearly rolled out to almost everyone. So rather than discussing a lot about what to expect, and how to prepare for it, this post will aim to delineate what should SEOs be doing today — now that this indexing has rolled out. However, before doing so, let’s super briefly touch on a few common questions I have encountered about this.

Is There a Separate Mobile Index?

Google clearly states that there isn’t a separate mobile index. And there’s that. There is only one index.

Is Mobile Friendliness the Same Thing As Mobile-First Index?

No. Mobile friendliness has to do with rendering, and Google’s crawler being able to understand how your site looks like on mobile. And sure, it is a ranking factor, but it’s different from the mobile-first index. On a similar note, it’s not true that if your website isn’t responsive, it affects mobile-first indexing. Again, mobile friendliness is a ranking factor, but it’s one of the ranking factors and is absolutely separate from mobile-first indexing.

Is Expendable Content Bad?

Expandable content is a content that expands or opens up upon a user clicking on a drop-down or something similar. The primary reason for using such type of content is to save space, and in many instances, maintain set above-the-fold requirements. It actually used to be the case where such a practice was frowned upon, but now that this is a prevalent behavior for mobile, Google now considers this normal. It should not affect your website. If it does, it’s probably due to other factors of how your expandable content is coded.

Is There a Separate Link Index?

Like the first one, the answer is no. Links are to a domain and a subdomain. They directly affect those, and nothing else; and also, has nothing to do with mobile-first indexing.

How to Check if a Website Has Moved to Mobile-First Indexing?

If your website is new like mine — especially if published after July 1st, 2019, the default indexing would be the mobile-first. Prior to that, Google was relaying messages in Google Search Console, notifying that mobile-first indexing has been enabled.

Now that we’ve covered those, let’s first, slightly touch on what mobile-first indexing is, and then we’ll cover six things your website needs to focus on — in the post mobile-first indexing world.

So, What Is Mobile-First Indexing, After All?

Mobile-first indexing simply means that Google will now use the mobile content of your website for ranking purposes. The differentiating factor here is the content. Depending on the situation, a lot of websites have different content for desktop and mobile, but I believe a majority of them also have the same content. In fact, doing so can help you avoid a lot of headaches.

Google started rolling this out slowly and gradually for websites. They even gave a lot of heads-up to websites. It should also be noted that there wasn’t an option to opt-out. It’s something that was forced — but, with constant & enough warnings.

Fast forward a few years, and you’ll realize that by default, starting July 1, 2019, all new websites will be evaluated against the mobile version of their content. A new website could actually be a new website, or a website previously not recognized by Google.

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What Are Some of the Best Practices for Post Mobile-First Indexing?

what is mobile-first indexing

Rather than worrying about mobile-first indexing in a verbatim manner, just think that there is only one index, like it used to be before. We’re in 2020 now, so there’s not much point for me to discuss how you can prepare for it, and ensure your site doesn’t get affected by it. Plus, there are tons of better resources out there that have already done a great job of these talking points.

However, what I will indeed discuss, are a few items, in my opinion, that you should be doing for optimal SEO performance in 2020, and beyond.

Ensure a Great Mobile Experience

Again, in this day and age, stop thinking in the sense of mobile-first indexing, consider what you need to do for better SEO. There is only one index now, and the focus is pretty much on mobile.

A couple of things you need to do definitely are:

  1. Ensure your website is mobile friendly. Going with a responsive template/design is the recommended solution — even by Google.
  1. Ensure your site passes the mobile friendly test. You can check for it by going here, or directly within Google Search Console. Note that your template might be responsive, but some resources or CSS files may be blocked to Google. So a part of passing the mobile friendly test is also about following best crawlability best practices.
  2. Invest in CRO, or conversion rate optimization methodologies and systems to better understand user interaction with your website. UX can end up being a ranking factor, and more negatively, if they keep bouncing off of your site.

Ensure Your Site Speed Is Blazing Fast (Especially on Mobile)

In the world of rapid modernization, technology plays a big hand in the next big experience. Pretty closely tied to it, is the speed, or how fast things are executed, answered, and rendered. Search behavior is no different. Google has openly declared that speed is a ranking factor, and as I’ve repeatedly maintained, it’s increasingly going to become a bigger factor every year.

5G will be rolling out soon. Wi-Fi’s are getting smarter, better, faster. New hardware are pumped every now and then to handle more demand. Video streaming & uploading is increasing day-by-day. So seriously, if you want to trank better, or continue to rank better, YOU HAVE TO MAKE SURE YOUR WEBSITE LOADS FAST!

Ensure Your Website Is Technically Sound

Some of the basic necessary items (not limited to), that I’d most certainly recommend looking into are:

  1. Creation of XML sitemaps. Better yet, creation of xml.gz sitemaps.
  2. Making sure Google can render your CSS and JavaScript files. Once more, an excellent way to check for this to check your site in Google’s mobile-friendly test.
  3. Not to sound like a broken record, but make sure your website is fast! One of the easiest (might not always be the cheapest), tactic you can use is to invest in a CDN.
  4. Robots.txt files are used to control crawling, if required. More truer for bigger organizations.
  5. Ensure there aren’t crazy redirect chains, messy canonical logics, or use of robots meta tags.
  6. Ensure that there are consistent URL structures. That is, always go with all lowercase. I always suggest this route, as it’s the easiest and best to maintain.

Create Engaging Content and Then Promoting It

This advice is not new, but still holds a lot of weight. Creating unique, engaging content holds the key to how well your site will be ranked, and how well will users interact (amongst other things). Content doesn’t have to be just text. It can also include, images, videos, interactive quizzes, giveaways, reviews, etc.

Be authentic, be original, and be to the point, and most importantly, understand what your audience wants. And when their taste changes, your content needs to adapt. There are obviously various strategies you can employ (a post for another day), but on a high-level, this is something you need to keep in mind.

Lastly, once your content is live according to your satisfaction, promote it (paid or organic methods) on social channels. There have been numerous studies done that show a positive correlation between organic performance tied and high social engagement.

Invest in Structured Data

structured data example
3 Easy Steps to Implementing JSON Breadcrumb Schema Code post capturing extra real estate in the SERPs due to FAQ schema (structured data).

I have discussed how you can implement breadcrumbs structured data on your website. Plus, there are tons and tons of them available out there. In the world of excessive content disbursement every second, you will have to figure out a way to further differentiate yours.

My recommendation would be to familiarize yourself with the concept of structured data, and start initiating steps to use as many of those as you can.

Structured data will give you the power to provide additional context about your content, and depending on the situation, make you further eligible for rich snippets. A lot of the folks sort of run away from implementing this, for whatever reason, be it Dev resources, office politics, effort level, etc. So, if you start implementing these on your site, you can have that extra edge!

The only caveat I’d throw here is to not abuse, or cheat your way into implementing structured data. In a lot of the cases, Google can end up giving you a penalty for it.

Ensure Desktop & Mobile Experience is Identical

What this mainly translates into is pretty much having the same meta tags, canonical logics, technical items, headings, content, structured data — including error pages. In January 2020, Google stated that this falls into one of its best practices.

If that sounds too much, you can go back to the idea of working with a responsive design for your site. That will solve a lot of your technical headaches, and future website maintenance man hours.

Conclusion

At the time of publishing this post, mobile-first indexing shouldn’t be a shocking news anymore. It’s already there, and will remain there for a very-very long time. And there’s a 99% chance that your website is already on it.

I think the biggest shift that needs to happen is in the philosophy of how desktop and mobile are treated. Mobile needs to get more weight, every-time (all things being the same).