With more searchers on mobile, Google is changing things up

Jennifer Slegg brought the word on Google's "mobile first" indexing and ranking changes, as well as a comprehensive look at Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).

Jennifer Slegg brought the word on Google’s “mobile first” indexing and ranking changes at State of Search in Dallas, Texas. The presentation also featured a comprehensive look at Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). Photo courtesy Matt Siltala

More than 50% of searches are performed via mobile device – this makes sense, if you think about it. How often do you find yourself searching for something from your phone, rather than sitting at your computer to type your query? Because of this, Google has decided to change up the way they index webpages by indexing mobile first (hence the title of the post). To elaborate on this, Jennifer Slegg of The SEMPost took the stage and rightly blew the collective mind of the State of Search audience.

“More people search from mobile devices,” she said, “but Google also wants your content to be consistent across mobile and desktop.” To that end, Google will begin indexing and ranking websites based on those pages served to mobile users, which can be a major problem if you currently have separate mobile and desktop versions of your site. That kind of setup is horrible for the user – why serve different content based on device? In this day and age, searchers expect consistency. When consistency doesn’t happen, users tend to blame Google. So Google is taking steps to correct this.

 

Content consistency is the key to search happiness

The good news is that we’re still in the early days for mobile first, so you have some time to fix any issues your site might have. As Jennifer explained, you don’t want different URLs for the desktop and mobile versions of your site (www.example.com vs. m.example.com). Truncated content on mobile will also be a problem. “If you have keywords and information only available on desktop,” Jennifer said, “you will no longer rank for that.” Because Google won’t be looking at the desktop content – it’s all about mobile first!

And for those of you who don’t have a mobile site at all, fear not! You won’t be penalized by Google, but you will miss out on an important mobile ranking boost. Google will still index and rank your site, but they’ll crawl it as the mobile Googlebot. The best way to avoid all these issues, though, is to switch to a responsive website. When you do that, your site automatically adjusts based on the width of the screen, and you’re delivering the same main content to all users, regardless if they’re coming from mobile or desktop. Per Google, having the same content on both desktop and mobile is the best user experience possible.

It’s all about the user experience

After overviewing mobile first, Jennifer jumped into some more technical details – for instance, mobile title tags are longer than desktop title tags, and content hidden behind tabs and “accordions” is still indexed. She also brought up one particularly interesting factoid: even if you have a mobile-friendly site, Google will remove the mobile-friendly ranking boost if you decide to use pop-ups and interstitial ads. There are some exceptions to this, which she covers in her slide-deck at the end of this post, but your end-goal should always be user experience – and most users don’t like those kinds of ads!

Shifting gears, Jennifer closed out her presentation by extolling the virtues of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). AMP is a framework for fast-loading mobile pages – and not just on Google! AMP is also rolling out to third parties, such as Bing and Pinterest. AMP is also starting to pop up in the regular search results, not just in a carousel at the top of the SERPs. Why is this so important? Because AMP is really, really, really fast. The articles are cached and load almost instantly. According to Jennifer, the benefits of AMP include: speed, using less data, speed, can be easier to read, and also speed. And in a world where mobile first is coming, you want your site to be fast and your content to load quickly.

The pros and cons of AMP

That being said, there are some downsides to AMP. There’s limited customization, there can be revenue loss, the code must validate, and there’s no ranking boost. However, Google is working on these things, and more and more website providers are offering AMP plug-ins to help you make that switch for your content.

For those interested in getting started with AMP, Jennifer shared a simple testing tool you can use to make sure a page is set up correctly once you have built it out. The tool is available in your Google Search Console account via https://search.google.com/search-console/amp. AMP also supports the “hamburger menu” so people can navigate into your site after they read your content.

But should you use AMP? If yours is a news site, a recipe site, targets countries with slow Internet connections, or has known slow site issues – yes, AMP could be a great area of focus. BUT, if you’re primarily an ecommerce site, or have low mobile traffic, AMP is less relevant (but it could still be a good area to test with blog posts or info pages). Either way, the name of the game is speed, speed, and more speed. With mobile first currently testing and rolling out next year, you need to make sure your content is the same on desktop and mobile, and AMP can help give you that extra boost in search results. In the words of Jennifer Slegg, AMP it up!