Preparing for Google's Mobile-first Index: What Does It Mean for Local SEO?

In October of 2016, mobile internet usage finally surpassed desktop usage around the globe, and Google has responded to this steady growth of handheld net surfing by announcing the eventual switch to a new search index that favors mobile-friendly sites. In this post, we’ll review the implications that this switch has on local SEO and cover the basics of preparing for Google’s mobile-first index.

What’s a Mobile-first Index?

Simply put, Google’s index is a list of websites that it serves to users whenever they enter a given search term. If a customer searches for “Florida roofing”, and your business shows up on the first page, then you are listed high in the index (very good for business!). If for some reason you don’t show up anywhere (not even on page 300!), you aren’t in Google’s index, and thus potential customers will never be able to find you.

Google determines what order to rank websites in based on a lot of factors, but up until now, they have delivered different search results depending on whether the user is on a desktop or a mobile device, keeping a separate index for each. As part of Google’s neverending quest to deliver the best possible user experience, this new algorithm will be based on just one index, which will favor a website’s mobile usability before its desktop experience. Hence, the name mobile-first index.

What’s Does the Change Mean for Me?

In the competitive fight for first page Google results, a business needs to use every tool available to get an edge. For local businesses, in which the competition is often less diverse, small changes can often put you ahead of the other guys. The best way to get ready for the mobile-first index is to ensure that your business’s online presence is represented by a single responsive website that delivers optimal user experience regardless of screen size.

If your current website requires users to zoom in to read text on their phones, doesn’t have menus that scale to fit small screens, or forces users to scroll endlessly to read tables, odds are that you’re not very mobile-friendly. Furthermore, some businesses opt to publish two versions of their website, one that gets served to desktop users and another to mobile (often published on a subdomain like m.example.com). Not only is it tedious to keep these two sites updated and consistent, but it is also going to hurt your SEO once the mobile-first index hits because Google will now favor your mobile site over the other one. If the content or backlink profiles are inconsistent, this could tank your rank overnight.

What Can I Do to Prepare?

First, read through Google’s overview of responsive web design. Since it’s their search engine that you are trying to appease, you might want to know what Google is looking for in a mobile website.

Next, run your domain through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. If your site’s not up to snuff, this should provide a solid list of issues that need to be cleared up.

Finally, if your website is currently divided into two versions (one for desktop, one for mobile), it’s time to convert to a single responsive site. It might take a bit of work, but your SEO will benefit in the long run, and you’ll no longer have the headache of maintaining two sites.

That’s all there is to it. The switch is really just about Google providing a top-notch experience to their audience. Since most users are mobile, the search engines are going to prefer websites that deliver responsive content. This is the perfect time to redesign your website to boost your SEO and stand out from the competition. If you’re preparing for Google’s mobile-first index and just don’t know where to start, contact us today to talk about how we can help you make a seamless transition.

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