A Google announcement on March 05, 2020 read:
“It’s been a few years now that Google started working on mobile-first indexing – Google’s crawling of the web using a smartphone Googlebot… We’ll be switching to mobile-first indexing for all websites starting September 2020.”
However, recently Google has decided to give developers and SEO practioners more time to get ready for the mobile-first indexing switchover. The deadline has been postponed to March 2021 instead of September 2020. The prevalence of global pandemic and its impact have been cited as the reasons for this postponement. If your website is not yet prepared for mobile-first indexing, it’s high time to make it so. We will explore a few methods in this blog. But before that, let’s quickly refresh our memory of mobile-first indexing.
What is Mobile-First Indexing?
Historically, the crawlers of Google search engine used the desktop version of a website’s content to evaluate its relevance to a user’s query. However, with the increased usage of mobile phones to access the internet (more than 50% as per Statista,) Google decided to switch to mobile-first indexing. According to this, the mobile version of any webpage content is to be considered for indexing and ranking based on factors like parity of text, images, links, and videos. Started on July 1, 2019, the mobile-first indexing strategy compelled enterprises to design their web presence primarily for mobile devices followed by desktops.
Now, let us proceed to find out how webmasters can prepare websites for this kind of indexing.
How to Get Ready for Mobile-First Indexing
For websites that are yet to reach the goal of mobile-first indexing, Google has pointed out a few criteria for consideration:
1. Let Googlebot Access the Content:
Since mobile-first indexing would mean the bot to assess all information from a site’s mobile version, developers should ensure the bot is able to see the full content. In doing so, they should pay attention to the following points –
- Use similar robot meta tags on both mobile and desktop versions of a webpage. Otherwise Google may fail to index or follow links on the page.
- Lazy loading is a common optimization practice on mobile, especially for loading videos and images. It defers the loading of non-critical objects until they need to be displayed on the viewport. It significantly increases the page load speed and boosts the user experience.
However, avoid lazy-loading of the primary content based on interactions like clicking, swiping, or typing, because Googlebot doesn’t trigger these user interactions. For example, if your page has 12 images on the desktop version and the mobile version shows 3 of it primarily, the remaining 9 images will be loaded from the server only if the user clicks the “+” button. Googlebot will not click this button to load the rest of the images, so these will not be indexed in Google Images. Therefore, follow the best practices of lazy-loading to load content automatically depending on its visibility on the viewport.
2. Be Attentive While Blocking URLs:
In several websites, some resources have different URLs for their mobile and desktop versions. If you want Google to crawl the URLs, ensure not to prevent crawling with your robots.txt file.
For instance, blocking the URLs of .css files will disallow Googlebot from rendering the pages properly, which in turn, will affect the page ranking on the SERP (Search Engine Result Page). Also, if you mistakenly block the URLs of the images, these will disappear from Google Images.
3. Use Similar Content on Mobile and Desktop Versions:
Since the content shown on the mobile version of a website would be used for indexing, make sure it is similar to the one shown on the desktop version including the headings. Also, if the mobile version has less content, update it to make it equivalent to the primary content on the desktop version. The lack of information will prohibit Google to access, crawl, and index full information which will impact your web traffic.
As we already mentioned, pay attention to the headings of the page so as not to affect the page’s visibility. For instance, if the desktop-version content showcases the following heading for a page:
<h1>pictures of sunset at the beach</h1>
the mobile version should also feature precise heading tag including the same words instead of the following:
<h1>pictures</h1> (subject is not clear)
<div>pictures of sunset at the beach</div> (heading tag is missing)
4. Check Visual Content:
Here are a few Google-recommended practices for featuring images and videos on a mobile version of a website:
- “Mobile is a smaller device than a desktop, small images are fine for it”. We understand your logic but Googlebot won’t! Do not use small or low-resolution images on the mobile version as these will not be properly indexed or included in the Google Images. The worst practice followed in many websites is to use small thumbnails for multiple images to make them all fit in a small section. Steer clear of it! Instead, showcase 2 or 3 images on the primary viewport in the mobile version then let the viewers find out more by clicking the “+” button.
- Use meaningful Alt attributes to describe the images. Less meaningful or empty alt-text negatively affect how images are crawled by Google. Let’s quickly check the examples of good and bad practices for optimizing the alt text:Good practice:<img src=”flowers.jpg” alt=”images of white lilies in a valley”> (meaningful and precise alt text)
<img src=”flowers.jpg” alt> (empty alt text)
<img src=”flowers.jpg” alt=”images”> (alt text is not precise)
Here’s an extensive guideline on how to use images on your website properly. Go through it minutely.
- Ensure to match the structured data between a desktop and video. So, the video structured data on the mobile version should contain similar VideoObject property as on the desktop one. Otherwise, Google’s video indexing systems cannot fetch adequate information about the videos and index them on the SERP.
Here are some more best practices to prepare your website for mobile-first indexing. Give it a quick read.
The delay in implementing the mobile-first indexing policy by Google should serve as a wakeup call for enterprises that are yet to change their websites. The remaining months should be put to good use and make the websites ready for mobile-first indexing. Remember, the failure to do so can make your website lose its search rankings drastically. We hope the above-mentioned guidelines, preached and practised by reputed SEO and website development company professionals, have helped you to outline your future plan of action. Implement these and thank us later!