This update penalized sites that weren’t mobile-friendly (for searches performed on smartphones).
But if your target audience doesn’t search that much from their phone, this update wasn’t a big deal.
That is, until Google made EVERY search a mobile search. How? By making their entire algorithm “Mobile-First”.
What Is Google’s Mobile-First Index?
Google’s Mobile-first Index ranks the search results based only on the mobile-version of the page. And yes, this occurs even if you’re searching from a desktop.
Before this update, Google’s index would use a mix of desktop and mobile results.
So if someone searched from an iPhone, Google would show them mobile results. And if someone searched for something on a desktop, they’d get “desktop results”.
Today, no matter what device you use, Google shows you results from their mobile index.
I’ll have A LOT more on making sure your site is optimized for mobile SEO in chapters 3, 4 and 5.
Is Google’s Mobile-First Index a Big Deal?
If your site is already perfectly optimized for mobile, you should be good.
So if your site…
Loads resources across all devices
Doesn’t hide content on mobile versions of your site
Loads quickly like mobile users expect
Has working internal links and redirects
Boasts a UX that’s optimized for any device that your visitors use
Then yeah, you’re good.
If not, you may notice a rankings drop as Google rolls this out.
That’s why the rest of this guide is dedicated to helping you optimize your site for mobile.
What Does Google Consider “Mobile”?
To most people, a “Mobile device” means a smartphone or tablet.
However, Google puts tablets “in their own class” and states: “when we speak of mobile devices, we generally do not include tablets in the definition”.
In other words, according to Google: mobile=smartphones.
Honestly, this shouldn’t impact your mobile SEO all that much.
The main idea here is to optimize your site for ANY device.
This includes phones, tablet… or anything else that Elon Musk invents in the future.
Chapter 2:How to Implement a Mobile Website That Ranks in Google
To succeed with mobile SEO today, your site needs to at least work on mobile devices.
So if mobile visitors get hit with a mini version of your desktop site, you’re in trouble.
Fortunately, implementing a mobile website isn’t hard or complicated.
And in this chapter I’m going to lay out a few different ways that you can implement a mobile version of your website (with a focus on SEO for mobile).
When It Comes to Mobile, You’ve Got 3 Options
There are 3 different ways to configure your site for mobile.
First, you’ve got Separate URLs (this is also known as an “M.” configuration).
With this setup, you have the “main” desktop version of your site. You also have a mobile version (“M.”) version of your site.
In other words, your site figures out what device your visitor is using… and then directs them to a URL optimized for that device.
Separate URLs were popular back in the day. Today? Not so much.
Why? First, they’re a huge pain to manage.
Also, “M.” sites have a host of SEO issues (like the fact that you need multiple URLs for every piece of content on your site AND that it requires complicated “rel=canonical” and “rel=alternate” tags).
In short, I DON’T recommend a separate URLs/”M.” configuration. It’s by far the worst way to configure your site for mobile SEO.
Next up, we have Dynamic Serving.
When you serve content dynamically, all of your content is on the same URL. But you show each user different HTML/CSS depending on the device they’re using.
Dynamic serving is definitely better for SEO than having an “M.” version of your site. But it has issues.
For example, dynamic serving sites are notorious for showing desktop versions to mobile users.
You also need to constantly create different versions of your content for new devices that come out. If you don’t, your site may not recognize a new device… and show them a version that looks terrible on that device.
In short, I DON’T recommend serving dynamic versions of your pages to mobile visitors. Instead, I recommend…
Finally, we have Responsive Design.
I saved the best for last.
With Responsive Design, your page’s layout and content responds to each individual user.
The best part? Responsive design pulls this off without separate URLs or different HTML for each device.
In terms of being SEO-friendly, Responsive Design blows all other options out of the water.
Why? In short:
All of your content is on a single URL (good for sharing and getting links)
As you can see, I passed. But the tool let me know that mobile Googlebot had trouble loading all of the resources on my page:
Desktop Googlebot had no issue crawling these resources. But the mobile version couldn’t do it.
And with Google’s Mobile-first index now live, this is a potentially serious issue. And it’s something I wouldn’t have known about without this tool.
Super duper helpful.
Let Google Crawl Everything
This used to be no big deal. But today, this is a VERY bad idea.
Unless Google can fully crawl your page, they can’t tell it’s mobile-friendly or not.
And if they’re not sure it’s mobile-friendly, good luck ranking in the Mobile-first index.
How do you know if this is an issue?
First, check out your robots.txt file. This tells Googlebot to not crawl or index certain parts of your site. This file is usually found at site.com/robots.txt. You can also see it inside of the Google Search Console.
While you’re there, click on “Google Index” —> “Blocked Resources”. This will let you know if you’re blocking Googlebot from crawling certain parts of your site.
If you’re not blocking anything important, you’re set.
Put the Kibosh on Interstitial Popups
I know: everyone HATES popups.
I’m not going to get into that debate here. But I WILL tell you that Google also hates popups… especially for mobile users.
Remember: Google’s #1 job is to show their users amazing content. And if that content is hidden behind a giant popup? It’s not all that amazing anymore.
“On the mobile version of the page it can be that you have these kind of tabs and folders and things like that, which we will still treat as normal content on the page. Even if it is hidden on the initial view.”
He also said that, when it comes to Mobile-first:
“If it’s critical content, it should be visible.”
I’m going to wait for an official announcement on the Google blog before making a final say on this.
In the meantime, here’s my take:
If you block or hide content from mobile users, Google will ignore that content or put less weight on it.
Bottom line? Use your site on a few different phones. If desktop users see something mobile users don’t, I recommend getting that fixed ASAP.
Chapter 4:How to Optimize Your Mobile Site for UX Signals
As you know, SEO today is less about messing around with meta tags and more about having an awesome site.
This test is similar to any other site speed testing tool, except that it zeroes-in on mobile loading speed. It even loads your site in 3G to simulate a mobile environment.
And you get a helpful report that tells you how long it takes for your site to load on a mobile device…
…and shows you how to remove load speed roadblocks:
Here are some other quick tips to try out:
Squish your images: If you use WordPress, I recommend installing an image optimizer, like Smush Image Compression. These SIGNIFICANTLY reduce the file size of your images, which can speed up load times dramatically.
Implement Browser Cache: Google themselves recommend caching your site to make your site load faster.
Fire Up a CDN: CDNs can make page elements (especially images) load 2-3x faster.
Optimize Title and Description Tags for Mobile SERPs
Do you get the vast majority of your organic traffic from mobile?
Then you may want to optimize your title and description tags specifically for the mobile search results.
Believe it or not, but Google actually gives you MORE title tag characters to work with on mobile.
Here’s the exact breakdown:
Desktop Title: Approximately 70 Characters Description: Approximately 155 Characters
Mobile Title: Approximately 78 Characters Description: Approximately 155 Characters
In other words, if your title tag is 69 or fewer characters, your title won’t get cut off on desktop or on mobile.
But let’s say you get lots of mobile traffic. Well, you may want to expand your title tag and take advantage of that extra room… even if it pushes you over the desktop character limit.
For example, let’s say your title tag looks like this:
That’s 66 characters. So this title will display in-full on desktop and mobile.
But let’s say you wanted to use a word or phrase that’ll bump up your CTR. Your title tag would now look like this:
That’s 78 characters.
Yes, 78 characters means that Google will truncate your title tag on desktop searches. But it’ll show up just fine on mobile.
But if desktop only makes up a small chunk of your traffic? It may be worth it for the CTR bump you’ll receive with a longer title tag on mobile.
Should You Implement AMP?
Accelerated Mobile Pages are stripped-down versions of webpages designed to load quickly on mobile devices. In fact, AMP pages load about 4x faster than their non-AMP counterparts.
As you may know, Google has led the charge on AMP.
And because AMP is a Google project, lots of SEOs rushed to implement AMP for their clients’ sites.
(The assumption is that Google will reward AMP-friendly sites with higher rankings).
Higher rankings aside… Google also shows a little icon next to your result in the search results that may boost your CTR:
With all that, the question is:
Does it make sense to use AMP?
The choice is yours, of course. But my take is: probably not.
First, AMP puts SERIOUS limits on your page’s functionality.
Want full control of your ads? Not happening.
How about a lightbox or popup? Nope.
Well, you can at least brand your site however you want, right? Not so fast. AMP puts significant restrictions on CSS. This helps your site load faster… but makes your content look generic.
Second, AMP can hurt your link building efforts.
When someone links to your content, those links point directly to your site. Obvious, I know.
But here’s the deal:
When someone links to your AMP pages, that link points to the Google.com domain.
In other words, AMP can cost you in the link department.
So at least for now, links to AMP pages boost Google’s domain authority… not yours.