How to Prepare for Google's Mobile-First Index Rollout in 2018

by Anna Crowe | 11 MIN READ


Now that it's been confirmed Google will be rolling out a mobile-first index in 2018, SEOs and marketers worldwide are rushing to get prepared.

But how exactly are you preparing for this change?

With the help of savvy marketing and SEO professionals, a little research, and this article, you'll definitely be better equipped to tackle this rollout with confidence.

But before rushing out to make website changes, let's look back to fully understand the importance of this mobile-first index, plus what it means for SEOs and marketers.

What is an Index?

An index is a set of web pages that a search engine finds via links. Search engine “crawling” occurs when web crawlers (bots) scour the internet to prepare answers to users' queries.

Put simply, bots are deployed to find, categorize and store relevant data across the web.

Most digital marketers still prioritize SEO to accommodate these bots and boost visibility, but the process by which relevance and popularity is determined is a complicated equation. These algorithms are incredibly complex and contain thousands of variables.

Understanding the purpose of indexing helps to grasp the importance of the shift from desktop to mobile-first indexing.

The Change From Desktop-First To Mobile-First

Historically, the vast majority of search queries stemmed from desktop computers, which is why Google chose to rank search results on a “desktop-first” basis. Today things are different with the majority of users searching on their mobile devices...thus Google is adapting by rolling out the “mobile-first” index.

After months of updates, Google has shared that they are still working through the kinks and have not finalized their rollout plan.

The one thing we do know is that Google plans to prioritize mobile friendly sites (although the sites may not know when this new ranking happens).


How To Prepare For Mobile-First Indexing

While most mobile SEO experts are clamoring to help themselves and their clients, just as many are still researching how best to prepare.

Below, I've collected our top tips for executing a smooth transition from a desktop-first site to a mobile-first site.

Prioritize Your M-Dot Migration

Before Mobile-First Index, Launch Sites should change their m-dot domain to a fully responsive site. Google’s rationale is that sites that delay the migration may experience hold-ups in their mobile-first indexing.

Because Google doesn’t truly index an m-dot, they instead annotate their URLs. If a website changes from a m-dot to www before the index change, Google won’t need to do any indexing.

However, if a website waits to do the migration after the mobile-first rollout, Google will need to fully index both URLs and all m-dot content. Not ideal.

Ensure Mobile Content Matches Desktop Version

With the addition of mobile-first indexing, websites with a robust desktop version and partial mobile site may be negatively impacted. If a mobile site has less content than its desktop version, it may not receive high rankings as Google will prioritize the mobile friendly site.

Rather than rushing to create a lackluster mobile-friendly site, marketers should instead go with the previously mentioned responsive approach.

While this approach to design may take a bit more time, it will maintain all the desktop content and unify the desktop/mobile experience, page-by-page.

Style Your Mobile Site for UX

Search engines aim to understand queries by providing users with relevant and popular content. So while the focus should be on quality content, the number of users viewing your site should not be forgotten.

One way to increase repeat visits is by ensuring that your mobile site has been created with user experience (UX) as a top priority.

Use CSS and other font-end coding to help style the mobile site for improved readability and navigation.

Double-Check Google Sees Your Mobile-Friendly Site

After you’ve put in all the effort to update your website, you should make sure that Google has acknowledged these changes.

To know if Google “sees” these changes, use Google’s Fetch and Render tool found in the Google Search Console.

To use the tool, first state the "mobile: smartphone" user-agent. Once you complete the Fetch and Render, you can see what Google indexes in regards to your mobile site.

Below is an example using our own Firesnap website. In it, you'll see that Google is seeing what Firesnap's website visitors are seeing. This is ideal.


Capitalize on Usability

While it should be obvious that most users will be interacting on their phones, many mobile sites are lacking when it comes to their interface.

A few quick wins for improved usability:

  • Create buttons that are easily clicked on and clear about their destination.
  • Provide a “floating” navigation icon so that users can quickly navigate the site with ease.
  • Hyperlink key information so that users can simply click on the details and be redirected as expected.

Include Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an open source project that lets developers build faster mobile versions of their websites.

While these pages live on your page, they are served via Google’s domain, resulting in significantly reduced loading times. This dramatically improves UX and content consumption on mobile devices.

Consider Mobile Page Loading Speeds

One of the many important factors within Google's search algorithm is the speed in which web pages are able to be loaded (often referred to as "page speed" or "load speed").

Some of the more common culprits of slow page load speed are large image file sizes, excessive HTTP requests, and improper browser caching.

Check out Google's PageSpeed Insights tool to test your own website. If you're like most websites, you may find that images are one of the biggest anchors on your load speed. Here's how you can optimize your images to fix that common issue.

Final Notes for Mobile-First Index Preparation

The tactics mentioned here will certainly be useful in your preparation for Google's 2018 Mobile-First Index rollout. Still, they are not entirely comprehensive as marketers and SEOs continue to chase the frequent changes made by Google. I’ll be happy to continue updating you with the latest findings here and in future Firesnap articles (I’m also eager to experiment once this launches as well)!

But what's your take?

Is there anything we missed that's helped you prepare for Google's Mobile-First Index?

What has your experience been with transitioning your site?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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Originally published August 28, 2017. Updated November 29, 2017.