Small Business Marketing: Is Mobile-First Indexing Hurting Your SEO?

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On March 26, 2018, Google announced that they’ve begin migrating sites to their new indexing system, a mobile-first index. While it’s been the buzz in the digital marketing community for a while, and we’ve been on the edge of our seats waiting to see what this shift means for our clients, the reality is that most business owners are unaware of the approaching potential shift in their rankings – and by default, their website traffic.

How Does Ranking Work, Anyway?

Google has historically ranked websites by using a variety of metrics including content, site speed, structure, and digital footprint (citations, backlinks, social mentions). As each month and year passes, Google reworks and refines their core algorithm in order to reward the best sites with the best rankings and to penalize website administrators that attempt to circumvent or game the natural ranking system (also known as Black-Hat SEO). If you’ve got a website with a steady stream of content that’s value-laden, educating, and engaging paired with a fast, UX-focused website, you’re on the right track for ranking well.

How Do We Determine a Page’s Rank?

There are a few methods used to determine rankings, and we use two methods at 270net in order to obtain the best, most clear picture of where your business stands in relation to competition.

Method One: Google it. Type a keyword into Google and count how many spaces down until your business shows up. For example, when you type, “Digital Marketing Frederick MD” 270net shows up 3rd in the local map listings, so that would be considered a ranking position of #3:

Method 2: Use a ranking tool. We use a variety of tools in order to offer a holistic view of rankings and analyze two things:

  • Where a page ranks for their chosen/focus keywords (270net recently embarked on a content marketing plan for this client):

  • What their “keyword bubble” is – meaning ALL keywords they rank for, intentional or unintentional:

So, What Has Changed?

Google has stated in the past that they use the desktop version of a page’s content to determine the page’s ranking location (note: a website in its entirety never ranks – pages on the website each have their own rank. This is why content strategy is important.). For a long time, that worked well and delivered the best, most relevant answers to Google searchers. However, over the last 5 – 10 years users have shifted to mobile devices. In 2015, Google let us know that “more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.” This means that Google has been taking a closer look at their desktop-first way of thinking for a few years in order to determine how to deliver the best search results to all Google users. Let’s face it – we’ve all had that time when we’ve found the answer to our Google search and found that the website was less than friendly to navigate on our phones. When that happens, we don’t feel as if we’ve been delivered the best search result and quickest path to the answers we seek. Today, Google has let us know that they’ve heard us, and they’re ready to reward websites that follow mobile-indexing best practices with a higher position in search engines results.

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

Mobile-first indexing means that Google will use the mobile version of your website for indexing and ranking your pages. Instead of the historical method of indexing the desktop version as their “main” method of determining relevancy to your search query, they will be focusing primarily on the mobile version of your page to determine rankings. When this happens, your website will be crawled by the bot known as a “smartphone agent” in order to help deliver the content that mobile users (the bulk of Google users) are looking for.

What Is a Website Owner To Do?

Short and sweet: make sure that the mobile version of your website is the best version. Even if Google wasn’t rolling out mobile-first indexing, it would still be the best path to success as most of your searchers are arriving on mobile devices (at 270net, we averaged our clients out and determined that about 65% of visitors arrive using mobile phones).

When we build websites as 270net, we have an iterative process that starts with wireframing for both desktop and mobile devices. It’s important to understand user flow and user experience while designing – and building that usability on a fast, stable website.

When we onboard new digital marketing clients, we perform a comprehensive audit that analyzes not only keywords, competitors, and traffic, but also the nuts-and-bolts of the website itself. Why? Because that matters to Google, which means it needs to matter to us.

Best Practices for Mobile-First Rankings

Well, we could write about 35 blog posts about this topic, but here’s a quick overview of the big 10 factors – what really matters:

1) Positive User Experience

2) Designed to encourage clicks

3) Comprehensive, Relevant Content

4) Great Looking on Mobile

5) Get Some Video!

6) Network Your Content

7) Be Social

8) Technical Markup Present and Accurate

9) SEO Optimized

10) Fast. Really, Really Fast.

What’s Next for Google?

We believe that Google will continue to push towards an on-demand, on-the fly experience. As consumers trend towards (and demand the ability to) seeking information anywhere, at any time, in the way they want to consume it, we’ll see Google’s algorithm and the digital space meld to meet consumers where they are at. This means that video, voice, and other devices (think Apple Watch) will matter more and more as consumers flock to them, and business owners will need to keep a close eye on these trends to ensure that they remain at the top of the pack. While nobody can predict with certainty what the future brings, it’s our job at 270net to watch it – and talk about it – as it’s happening.