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Google’s Going Mobile-First: What You Need to Do

By Joel Lumsden - January 9, 2017

In this post Joel from digital marketing agency Attacat tells us what we need to do to adapt to Google’s mobile-first focus.

Let’s start with two incontrovertible truths: 1) Google rules the roost when it comes to search engines and search traffic, 2) People now browse the internet more on mobile devices than desktops, and 30% of online purchases are now made on phones.

Given truth number one of market-leader Google it’s not surprising that they’re adjusting the way they work to account for truth number two about mobile use, and thus your business and website needs to do the same.

What Google is changing

Google has begun testing ‘mobile-first indexing’: Indexing is essentially Google finding and understanding what pages are about and how popular they are, and every decision that Google makes on what sites to return in searches is pretty much based upon this index.

Indexation for mobile searches has traditionally been done based upon the desktop version of your website. Soon, however, mobile indexation will instead be based upon the mobile version of your site and the ranking signals of that version, with the desktop version only referred to as a backup if no mobile version exists.

A mobile-based index clearly makes sense for mobile-based searches!


First step: Be mobile-friendly

If you want your site to be discovered and used on mobile, it simply must be fully usable on mobile phone browsers. While the mobile-first version of Google’s index will refer to a desktop site as a backup if you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, you won’t get such a luxury from your website users: if a user can’t use your site on their mobile they’re not going to search out the nearest desktop computer!

Google also provides a small search ranking ‘boost’ to sites that it deems ‘mobile friendly’, making it a no-brainer for your business from both a user and an SEO perspective.

What’s the best way of becoming mobile-friendly?

There are three main ways to develop a mobile-friendly website:

1) Have a desktop site and a separate mobile site (e.g. m.mysite.com)
2) A single ‘responsive’ site that resizes the same content based upon the screen size of the device being used
3) An ‘adaptive’ site that serves different content based upon what device is being used

The easiest to manage method is to use a single ‘responsive’ website that changes the layout and display of content on smaller devices like tablets or mobile phones. By doing this you will only have to manage one version of the site pages and don’t really need to have any technical knowledge nor input.

The 123 Reg Website Builder is one way you could build a responsive site, as all the templates offered are responsive and the structure will change to make your content layouts optimised for users on all size devices, from mobile phone to desktop.

If you’re using WordPress, then make sure your site is based on a mobile-friendly template.

For those who have used a web designer in the past, you’ll either need to get them (or someone else) to modify your existing site so it’s mobile-friendly, or move over to a mobile-friendly platform.

A mobile-first index is most likely to impact how your site is displayed in Google if you either have no mobile site or a separate mobile website (e.g. m.mysite.com), and those with responsive sites obviously have the least to worry about.

How do I test to see if my site is mobile friendly?

Just enter your website address into Google’s Mobile Friendly Test and it will tell you if you pass the mobile-friendly benchmark. It will also highlight any major issues stopping you from being mobile-friendly if you fall short.

Second step: Make your site fast

Use Google’s Pagespeed Insights test to get a report on how fast your site operates, both on mobile and desktop, and work with your development team or webmaster to implement improvements.

Page load speed is of huge importance to mobile users and correlates directly to mobile conversion performance: a recent Google study found that pages with fewer images, fewer elements and a faster load time convert better on mobile, while almost half of consumers surveyed by KissMetrics expected a web page to load in two seconds or less and a delay of as little as one second could drop website conversions by 7%.

Google is pushing content publishers to make pages using their Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) design standard, which is essentially a framework for creating really quick-loading pages for mobile that cuts out a lot of the slow-loading stuff from a site. You might consider this if you feel you’ve taken your site speed improvements as far as you can.

Third step: Design for mobile

Design your website from a mobile-first perspective, not desktop first. You might hire a designer or choose a website template based upon a full desktop design, but if that’s not how a vast proportion of users see your site then why are you focusing on it?

Start with a mobile layout and a mobile design, and build alternative designs with greater complexity based upon that. Then you can be sure your website looks great on all devices!

girl writing list

Fourth step: Write for mobile

Mobile users see a smaller area when they view a website, and thus see less text. As such your opportunity to ‘grab’ a visitor with your sales copy is limited, and you need to be communicating what you do and why you’re the best choice for them as concisely and captivatingly as possible. This should apply to all your content and copy, from your homepage to your product pages, and include your titles and meta data.

Fifth step: Be mobile optimised

Don’t stop at just being mobile friendly: aim for fully mobile optimised!

Use Google’s Test My Site report to get a more in-depth report on mobile-friendliness and smaller issues you might want to fix, including developer advice on things like mobile font sizes, screen and button sizing for finger-tapping, plugins and blocked scripts. It’s important not to block things like JavaScript on mobile: now it’s a mobile-first index Google doesn’t want you to block from it!

Joel Lumsden is Head of SEO & Organic Marketing at Attacat digital marketing agency in beautiful Edinburgh. Attacat focus on delivering internet marketing that unites and optimises every part of your business.