The idea of mobile-first search engine indexing seems strange at first. Mobile websites still often feel like an afterthought, with less content and more emphasis on conversion than desktop sites. This isn’t the right approach, however, and Google’s move towards a mobile-first index makes a lot of sense.
The percentage of people who use a smartphone has been rising consistently every year, with 74% of UK adults using a smartphone in 2016 and 27% of these using no other device, according to Think with Google. The same research shows that a fifth (21%) of people use two devices in tandem, consuming content on both desktop and mobile in the same hour.
This doesn’t even include the number of people who watch TV while also browsing on their smartphone. Initiatives such as Android Go are designed to capture the remaining 26% of adults who can’t afford or don’t prioritise owning a smartphone worldwide.
Fortunately for brands, adjusting to the mobile-first index should dovetail nicely with a focus on the very same mobile-first future. Brands need to move where their consumers are, and for every stage of the conversion journey, this is mobile. This means that not only product and conversion pages need to be on mobile, but so do guides, frequently asked questions and blogs.
Gone are the days when a few responsive pages or a specialist ‘m’ site would suffice; now brands need to ensure their entire site is mobile-first. Consumers now expect to use their phones for the same tasks they would have historically undertaken on desktop.
Format-agnostic content is key; content needs to be brilliant no matter how your customers are accessing it. Designers and developers should be taking a mobile-first approach to new websites. Relatively simple tasks such as optimising images should become a matter of course. Even more complex tasks, such as ensuring your site loads as quickly as possible, must become commonplace, as these are crucial to mobile conversion.
How to stay visible
There are gaps where brands can ‘own’ more space on search engine results pages (SERPs), which is key on a smaller format screen. Traditional SERPs are already fading away, replaced by a mix of ready-prepared answers, suggestions and Google’s Knowledge Graph, which shows additional relevant information – from Wikipedia for example – next to the results.
The more space brands can own, the better their chances of getting in front of their consumers’ eyes at the right time.
One of the best ways to gain visibility on mobile, though not a traditional ranking position, is within featured snippets. Featured snippets are not only shown at the top of search results pages, but are also read aloud by virtual assistants for voice search queries. For brands, this means that regardless of how someone searches for that query, that person will always hear or see them, associating the brand with useful information.
Gaining a featured snippet is also often correlated with a ranking boost for that page in the traditional SERP listing, which confuses the data slightly, but is certainly a bonus.
In these instances, it’s always worth bearing in mind that only one website can appear for a featured snippet; so brands should ensure that the rest of their presence is optimised too in case this snippet is taken by a competitor’s newer content, or the feature is removed by Google.
A few ways to do this are by ensuring the brand’s Knowledge Graph presence is as complete as possible by using effective mark-up, checking that local listings are complete and citations are correct, and following the same technical and content best practice as for the desktop site.
What you can do right now
- Optimise content: Brands should make sure that all of their content works on mobile, not just those pages identified as relevant to a mobile audience – even long-tail searches can add up to a substantial number.
- Think mobile-first: It’s important to create sites with mobile-first in mind, so that sites load quickly and convert regardless of the platform.
- Be visible: Review the potential to appear for featured snippets for terms that are relevant and, if appropriate, work to occupy them. As well as this, brands should ensure they are as effective in the Knowledge Graph as possible. Brands with local businesses should ensure that their Google My Business presence is complete and citations are accurate.