Rumors of mobile-first indexing have been in circulation for over a year now, and it seems that Google has finally decided to pull the trigger on this new change to the search algorithm.
Are you prepared for it, or are you struggling to keep up?
Today we’re going to take a look at the best ways to provide a good mobile-first experience, but before we do, let’s take a closer look at what the mobile-first update is.
Mobile-First In a Nutshell
Because of the massive increase in smartphone availability, usage, and the increase in Google queries from mobile devices, Google has decided to adapt to latest trends by crawling the mobile version of any given website before crawling the desktop version.
But that’s not all – you need to start thinking of the mobile version of your site as the superior version or main version of you site, because Google certainly is.
Because of the increase in smartphone usage, with few exceptions, chances are that more people will see the mobile version of your site than the desktop version. One plausible exception is a target audience comprised of seniors who still prefer desktops over mobile devices, but generally speaking, the desktop version shouldn’t get as many hits as the mobile-friendly version.
Essentially, Google flipped the script. Prior to the mobile-first update, the desktop version was considered the primary version, and the mobile version was seen as a secondary alternative to the desktop version.
Now things are reversed, so let’s take a look at some of the best ways to provide your audience with a quality mobile-first experience.
1. Be Mindful of Mobile Connectivity Limitations
Desktop computers usually have faster Internet connections and faster network interfaces than smartphones and mobile devices. Generally speaking, mobile devices typically have connectivity of a few megabits per second with a strong signal, with exception to short range Wi-Fi connections. On the other hand, it isn’t uncommon for a desktop user to have a connection anywhere between 50 Mbps or even Gigabit connections.
Mobile devices just can’t keep up with network interface speeds of desktop computers in the present. To accommodate mobile users, be very intentional about making minimalistic page sizes and optimize the living heck out of your images. Compress where you can, and cut some out if they’re crushing loading speeds.
If you think loading speed isn’t a big deal, think again. Google asserts that 53% of mobile users will abandon a page if it fails to load within a span of three seconds. Imagine, if the mobile version of your site doesn’t load within that three second window, you’re chasing off over half of your total visitors!
Use Google's free Page Speed Insights tool to test your site - and do it often!
2. Intentionally Design Simple Navigation Menus
It’s fair to say that any visitor wants a clean and easily navigable menu, but offering a simple navigation menu is more crucial for mobile users than desktop users. Desktop users are afforded faster input devices, such as a mouse and keyboard. Typing and navigating are generally slower on mobile devices, and inputs via tapping a screen often lack the precision of a mouse.
Have you ever visited a site where the drop-down menu items were so thin and small it took a few tries to tap the correct menu item? I can’t even fathom how hard navigating through such a menu would be for someone with large fingers!
It’s absolutely infuriating!
Take the time to pull up your mobile site on your own personal mobile device and make sure of two things. Firstly, make sure the menu items’ sizes are big enough to be easily selected. And secondly, try to reduce complexity and make it as flat as possible with fewer nested navigation links.
And if you're having trouble doing this, or just don't want to deal with it, we highly recommend contacting a designer to get this fixed. It's annoying and you're losing potential leads because of it.
3. AMP Optimization
Counter-intuitively, I was surprised to see that Google favors the non-AMP version of your mobile pages. As Google outlines on its developers guide, “Google prefers the mobile version of the non-AMP URL for indexing.”
Nevertheless, Accelerated Mobile Pages offer an opportunity to steal an advantage against your competition by providing faster loading pages, which provides for a better user experience. For the best edge against the competition, consider hosting both AMP and non-AMP versions of your content.
WordPress has a free AMP plugin that is a must-have in our book.
4. Consistency Between Mobile and Desktop Pages’ Metadata
You should also strive for consistency between your mobile and desktop pages, especially with regards to metadata. Ideally, you want the bots to be able to rank the pages evenly so they can glean the purpose and intent of the content for a higher degree of accuracy. And make darn sure that your titles and metadata are accurate. Inconsistencies could potentially lead to a penalty too, especially if the metadata displayed to the user is different than what you’re displaying to the Google bots. This technique is called cloaking, and the Google algorithm abhors it.
When desktop computers dominated Google searches, there were really only a few platforms from which the average user could choose. Most people were either on a Mac or Windows device, meaning there were only a handful of web browsers that were commonly used (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, etc.). As such, it wasn’t as difficult to implement scripts that behaved in a predictable and uniform manner.
Today, however, the mobile industry is terribly fragmented. While there are still popular web browser options like Safari, Firefox, and Google Chrome, there are also a lot of new age browsers like Firefox Focus Privacy Browser, Microsoft Edge Mobile, Opera Mini, Surfy Browser, Dolphin Browser, Puffin, and other similar solutions, Not only do you have the browser to worry about, but also how well the OS runs on the mobile device.
Because the mobile market is so fragmented compared to the desktop landscape years ago, scripts don’t always behave like you think they should on various platforms. Unless you have the time to open your web pages from a wide variety of devices from a lot of different web browsers, you’re better off keeping scripts to a minimum.
Get Ready - Mobile First is Coming!
With the ever increasing importance of accommodating mobile users, you really have take more effort than finding a WordPress theme with mobile support. Using these techniques will help you stay ahead of the mobile-first curve. However, if you don’t feel comfortable making these types of changes, let us know, we're happy to help!