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How to Prepare Your Website for Google's Mobile First Index

Nov 28, 2016
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If you have a website and generate business through that website, paying attention to the updates over at Google Search is a smart move. Many people ask why we focus so much on Google when it comes to search. Google owns about 75% of all online searches. As the industry leader in search, they set the trends and the tone for the industry. As an online marketer, my goal is to deliver the best results as well as educate my clients and audience. In this episode of the SMA Marketing Minute, we take a look at what you can do to prepare for Google's upcoming switch to the mobile-first index.


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Helpful Tools:

#1. Speed

#2. Don’t block CSS, JavaScript or images

#3. Mobile design

Never use Flash.
Get rid of pop-ups.
Design for “the finger.”

#4. On-page optimization

#5. Local optimization

Video Transcript:

In this episode of the SMA Marketing Minute, I want to talk about Google's switch to the mobile-first index. The mobile-first index is coming. What they're basically doing is they're splitting between the desktop and the mobile version of indexing, so your site is actually going to get indexed twice by Google now.

Now, the biggest reason why we need to pay attention to this is that the mobile index will be the dominant index for search from now on. This is because more and more people are moving to mobile devices. It's easier to walk around and search things on your mobile device. Most people have even abandoned computers at home and have gone towards tablets. And some of them aren't even using tablets. They're simply using their really high-functioning and awesome new smartphones.

So, what do you need to do as a business owner, or as an SEO agency or marketing agency, to get ready for the mobile-first index? Well, in this episode, we're going to talk about five things you can do right away to make sure your site is ready to go.

The first thing you need to be aware of is speed. Speed is more important than ever, especially when it comes to mobile searching. Google knows that people aren't as patient as they used to be, and that's why they want your site to load within two seconds. Now, that seems ridiculously fast considering if you've been on the internet any length of time. Back in the good old days, on America Online, it took you minutes and minutes to wait for your site to load, or really just to get online. Then, sometimes, you'd get cut off because someone would call in the middle of you connecting online. How frustrating was that?

Good thing we don't have that problem anymore, but we've gone to the other extreme, where everyone expects things to be instant. So, what can you do to make your site load faster?

The first thing you can do is optimize your images. There are a lot of great WordPress plugins if you're using a WordPress site, to optimize those images. If you're not using WordPress, what you want to do is make sure that you don't have this really, really large image, that you're going to scale down and configure to be smaller on your site. If your image is 2,000 pixels, then on your site, it's really going to be 400 pixels, make sure you just make that image 400 pixels. That way, you're reducing the size of the image, you're compressing the size of that image, and you're not really having this extra weight on your site.

The second thing you can do is minimize your code. This is making sure that your code is easier for the crawlers to read, easier for the servers to pick up and deliver faster, and you're not having all of this extra code. So, you're combining your code together, minimizing it. Again, if you use WordPress, there's a ton of great plugins out there, and I'll make sure to put some links to those below that can help you minimize your site content.

You also need to start using browser caching, so leverage browser caching. WP Fastest Cache is a really good one, WP Total Cache is a good one. There are a number of other ones, especially if you're on a WordPress site, that will help you leverage browser cache. If you're not using a WordPress site, it's a little bit more difficult and you need to understand how to access that HT access file to put the appropriate language in there, to make sure that your site is being cached properly.

What caching does is it actually loads part of your site into the browser, so when the user goes to your site and they've been on your site, it's storing browser cache. Sometimes you've seen "delete cache, delete history" inside your browser. What it's doing is storing some of the files to your site, so when that user comes back, that site is going to load faster because it already knows a little bit about that site and has some information stored on it.

The last thing you can do is remove a lot of redirects. If your site is redirecting a lot of the time - maybe you're redirecting one page to another page, and you've moved a lot of content around - those extra redirects can actually start to harm you. It's making the server work that much harder to really understand where all the content is on your site, where the new stuff is, what's the right stuff, what's the wrong stuff. So, getting rid of some of those redirects can really help you speed up your website.

Mobile crawlers can now understand a lot more than they used to. They can understand the Java, they can understand the CSS, they can understand the different file formats we're giving them. This is actually going to help not only your site load faster because it can cache on mobile, but at the same time, it's going to help the search engines understand what your content about, what your mobile experience is, and how that really interacts with users.

The third thing you can do is have a really good mobile design. Now, while a lot of sites have moved to responsive web design, or they have a mobile site, not all mobile sites are created equal. And honestly, even some of the responsive sites, just because you have responsive coding doesn't really mean that your site looks great or works great on mobile. So, make sure that your mobile experience is a really high-quality experience.

If you have Flash on your website, it's time to let it go. Flash takes really long to load and it also doesn't work on a lot of mobile devices. Apple really put a lot of energy behind killing Flash when they announced the iPhone, because the iPhone doesn't support Flash. Now, with HTML5 and as code continues to be reinvented because of what the internet is all about, Flash isn't really going to have that much importance anymore. So, get rid of it now. It's going to help your mobile experience. And, make sure that's consistent across all channels.

Another thing you want to do is get rid of all of those pop-ups. Sometimes a pop-up is fine, but sometimes for a mobile user, it's just annoying. They're trying to get content right now and if they get a lot of pop-ups and they've got to click out and use their finger to push those little buttons, it's really going to annoy them and make them have a bad experience, and they're most likely going to bounce.

That brings us to our last point, which is design for the finger. We don't have mouses on mobile. This is our mouse right here. This is what we're going to use, tap things, you know, and you've got to make sure that it's really easy for the user to use with their finger. 

The fourth thing is on-page SEO. On-page SEO is still extremely important because this is how the crawler is going to search to understand what your site is about. So, have the right title text, take time to really put in good descriptions. Descriptions may not matter for ranking, per se, but it's going to let the search engines know what your content is actually about. That's what the crawlers are trying to do. They don't know like a human does, where they can just see the content and experience it. They can only read the code, they can only read the text, so give them the right text so they understand what your site is about. This applies just as much for mobile as it does for desktop.

The last thing you need to do is make sure you're optimized for local. Local search is extremely important, especially when it comes to a mobile device. So many users now are going around, whether it be in their car, they're walking or they're shopping, and they use their phone to find products or services or locations where they know that they can get them. Making sure that you optimize for local, that you use your NAPs, your name, your address, your phone number. Make sure they are legible and it's easy to find, that you make it really user friendly, so when those people are engaging with your site on mobile when they are out shopping, they can find your location, they can get there quickly, they can contact you quickly, they know your store hours, all of those things that are so important for the user.

Put yourself in their shoes and begin to think about the things that you need or want when you're looking to shop locally and using your mobile device.

There you have it. That's a couple of things you can do to make sure your site is ready for the mobile-first index. Yes, desktop is going to matter. Regular search still plays a big role and a lot of people still search using their computers, but we have to place more of an emphasis on mobile search, mainly because Google is going there and society is moving there. As more and more people look to their smartphones as their primary source of connection, we as business owners, as site owners, as agencies, need to make sure that we are ready where the people are and able to give them the right content at the right time.

Have a great week and happy marketing.

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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