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The Impending Mobile First Index and its SEO Implications

21 Mar 2017

If you have been busy working away on your projects, you may have missed the announcements late last year regarding Google’s move to a mobile first index. But what does this actually mean for website owners and search professionals?

Traditionally, Google has always visited and indexed the desktop version of your website. With the pages and content found sent back to help build the index. However as more and more people view websites on mobile devices first these days, Google has decided to switch from this approach and instead, crawl the mobile version of your website (if you have one).

This post isn't about the change itself, if you would like to read more about that, then Jennifer Slegg at SEM Post provides a pretty comprehensive guide.

Day to day though - what will this change really mean in our industry? Potentially we are talking about a major change to how we work and think. With that in mind, here are a few immediate thoughts mixed in with some general ramblings about what may change.

Mobile First SEO - Thoughts and Ramblings

Page Rank

If Page Rank is to be calculated via the mobile index as oppose the desktop version of the site, then mobile navigation will have to be treated more carefully going forward by design agency's (or rather the SEO team on the project). SEO teams will have to watch internal link structures closely and check how the site architecture looks on mobile. Previous efforts to create graceful internal structures for desktop may not look so good on mobile and in fact become redundant. That feels a little ominous to me. What will this mean to rankings? More importantly, is another part of our job going west?

Mobile First Testing

If you read my best posts of 2016 roundup, you will see the write up regarding the Paul Haarh presentation at SMX West. In it, Paul confirmed something that I didn’t know – Google ask testers to use smartphones and not desktop sites. Pretty scary if you ask me.

What impact will mobile UX have on rankings then? will Google also shift UX signals to mobile? Will mobile UX trump desktop? I have no idea but would expect that if there is a bias towards desktop at the moment, it may have its days numbered.

My Advice - spend a lot of time browsing your website on mobile and get any visual bugs, inconveniences to visitors, distractions etc fixed.

Time To Answer:

This will get more and more important I predict. If users are scrolling past pages and pages of menus and other blocks of design work that delay the user, expect your ‘quality’ score to drop. Do we need to almost strip design back here and focus our efforts almost entirely on UX?

Have you seen and used the ‘make mobile friendly’ message in Chrome on mobile? Did you find the page easier to read? I generally choose this option and as a result, spend less time fiddling with site nav and images to get to what I came for. This sort of interaction will undoubtedly be measured.

Page Speed

This will also be interesting if not an obvious area of change. Many people have 4G these days but it isn’t that reliable and often mobile data speeds are poor depending on your location. Public broadband is also at times pretty slow and mobile surfing can be a frustrating experience at times in these situations.

In the Reboot For Relevance study done by Searchmetrics, file size was a noteworthy winner. On mobile, I expect the net to tighten.

Will we see a pre broadband shift in terms of how designers focus on page file size. Ultimately file size is the only reliable signal Google can use for mobile page speed assessments since data connection speeds will vary wildly from location to location.

Ads and Distractions

Ads are annoying on desktop, but they are far worse on mobile. Can we expect the quality based algorithms to further tighten up in this area? Will annoying blocks of content, harmless on desktop become a real SEO issue in 2017?

Content

As we see a push into quality, what impact will this have on mobile? Here are a few areas where we could see change.

  • Tabular content will be dusted down and rebooted this time for good.
  • Reduced focus on graphic design and content distractions.
  • Shorter web pages that get to the point and provide answers faster.
  • More and more structured HTML
  • The death of paragraphs in content presentation.

Mobile Design Budget

Will budgets for mobile have to up? This may happen if ranking signals start to shift towards a mobile first world. At the moment mobile conversion rates still are way behind in certain industry's - for example ecommerce. Desktop will continue to come first in many builds. Will mobile budgets change? will we have to go past a responsive mentality to best appeal to Google?

Mobile Link Audits?

Is it worth checking the mobile experience on your best back links? What happens for example if they are stuck behind a buggy mobile experience? Or worse still, they simply are not there on mobile? I think we may see the birth of a mobile link audit type service - as site owners scramble to check their back links are still intact on mobile.

Summary

These are just some initial thoughts on areas that may change. Maybe way off. In the comments, let me know what you think.

The article was written by Jon Colegate. Connect with Jon:

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