This is an article by Nick Rojas. He combines 20 years of experience working with and consulting for small to medium business and a passion for journalism to help readers grow. He writes about technology, marketing, and social media for the aspiring entrepreneur. You can follow him on Twitter.
The world is rapidly becoming more mobile, and already over half of web traffic originates from mobile devices. Anticipating this change, Google, the juggernaut of search, has started to roll out its mobile-first indexing policy. Not only is maintaining a mobile website good business sense, it is becoming critical to SEO strategy.
What is Mobile-First?
This indexing approach is meant to prioritize mobile over desktop content when Google gathers information for its content index. Due to the rising importance of mobile, Google wants to stay ahead of the shifting computing landscape. This does not mean mobile websites will be the only ones indexed, and desktop sites are still are huge part of the internet. But it does mean mobile websites will be prioritized over desktop sites, so businesses without mobile websites are operating at a distinct disadvantage.
The prioritization manifests in the process of content gathering. Traditionally, desktop content was more important than mobile content. For businesses with compute-intensive sites, this was an excellent setup: they could showcase their most innovative ideas and Google would reward them for it.
However, because desktop sites tend to be more content-rich and compute-intensive, the experience for mobile users is often frustrating. In order to better serve those users, Google will use mobile content as a more important factor when returning search results. That means some of the most exciting and informative content may become less important for search results if it is not also included in the mobile version.
In the world of SEO, every factor in rankings is important. Plenty of people do not look beyond the first page or two of results. That means companies without mobile content, or with rather poor content on mobile when compared to desktop, will not be taking full advantage of available SEO practices. Even worse, the hard work and innovative ideas residing on the desktop site will be less important than whatever is on the mobile site, even if the mobile site content is only mundane.
To counteract this problem, companies need to at least maintain a mobile-friendly presence. Google helpfully published a guide to the best practices for achieving this goal. Companies should implement these practices as soon as possible. While mobile-first indexing is in its infancy, it is likely to become mainstream, especially as mobile usage continues to increase.
Apps as part of the solution
An important piece of information to any marketer is the origin of traffic. Browsers offer plenty of information on visitors, but only a few browsers dominate the marketplace. These browsers place restrictions on data gathering, both intentionally and by nature (browsers are general-purpose, so they are not optimized for a single company’s use). For this reason, companies often look to mobile apps to both optimize user experience and gather better data.
It is essential to implement Google analytics to better track user behavior and customer patterns. The insights generated will better help companies understand which components are most important for customers. After that information is known, companies can start to implement only identified components on the mobile site, thereby incorporating the most influential components of the business directly into the mobile site. This will trim down content and compute requirements while retaining the parts of the business that draw customers mostly efficiently.
Mobile-first indexing will not kill non-mobile websites, and it will not decimate a company that maintains a good website. Stated directly in the Google blog linked above, there are plenty of other factors, and poor mobile sites may still warrant top rankings. But on the internet, competition is fierce in almost every area, and the mobile-first indexing paradigm shift will burden any company that attempts to ignore it.