It’s no longer a question of if or when because the time has already come and gone. Mobile already eclipsed desktop as the more popular search method a couple of years ago, and this trend shows no signs of abating anytime soon. With continents like Africa bypassing desktop in favor of mobile, we can expect more of an explosion in mobile search in the next few years.
In response, Google introduced a slow rollout of their mobile-first index during the first half of 2018, which they finally completed this month. Although it may seem like old news by now, the completion of mobile-first indexing has a number of implications for the future of search.
What is Mobile-First Indexing?
In the recent past, desktop pages were the primary driver for search engine rankings. With mobile-first indexing, however, Google now crawls a website’s mobile pages to determine its site ranking before it crawls its desktop pages. In other words, mobile is on top and will probably stay that way until another piece of technology comes along.
Google still index desktop sites, but a site’s ranking may drop if there isn’t a mobile or a responsive version of that website. In addition, if a mobile page isn’t up to Google’s standards, its ranking could suffer.
Essentially, Google is looking for a responsive website that delivers the same content across both mobile and desktop. For this reason, Google now crawls websites with its Smartphone Googlebot, which looks at sites as an android phone user.
Changes for SEO
Essentially, Google’s mobile-first approach signifies an extra level of understanding what most users are searching for and how to meet their needs. The key is to figure out the user intent behind a mobile search query. With that in mind, here a few key questions to ask while preparing your site to rank for mobile.
How Does Your Mobile Site Respond to a Search Query?
One of the crucial factors affecting the mobile-first index is how a website responds to a search query. Does the webpage load quickly, and is it easy to find the answer on the page? In other words, does it respond quickly and accurately to the search query demands? Can the site determine whether the query requires a simple, concise answer or a longer, more detailed explanation? Are directions easy to read and understand? Can you quickly compare similar products on your mobile device? These are the types of considerations that are important to mobile search and can ultimately affect a ranking on a mobile-first index.
What Time of Day are Users searching?
The time of day also plays a significant role in what a user searches for and what device she uses. For instance, Google’s research shows that mobile search dominates in the morning until about 8 a.m. when people begin their workday and access their desktops. Subsequently, mobile takes over again later and keeps rising until peaking sometime during prime viewing hours.
As a result, search marketing professionals need to figure out how to make their webpage relevant to users at a certain time of day on a specific device, and, more importantly, how they can supply the right information at that time. For example, mobile searches for restaurants may spike in the early evening as people are deciding where to go out later that night. Alternatively, searches for pizza delivery may increase during NFL playoffs or for nighttime men’s NCAA tournament basketball games. Clearly, times of day influence not only what device a person uses but what they are searching for as well.
What’s Relevant in a Mobile-First World?
One of the things that mobile search affects is what is relevant to users. A Google study of user behavior revealed that people search differently depending on what device they are using, which may also indicate an age difference. For instance, the top apparel queries on mobile were for prom dresses and baby clothing, indicating that these users were mostly high school students and young moms. On the other hand, the top apparel queries on desktop point to older users because they searched for custom clothing and suits or business attire. Thus, within the same overall category, people may use a different device depending on what items they want and how old they are. In other words, a person’s age may influence which device they use to search. For SEO purposes, relevance boils down to figuring out not only what times of day users are searching but on which device and within which age group.
The implications of Google’s mobile-first index haven’t really changed the nature of search. Google’s goal of providing the best, most relevant answers to search queries remains the same. What has shifted is what users search for and when, and which device they use to find it.
In essence, Google’s decision to switch to a mobile-first index is merely a normal response to changes in user intent. In turn, web developers and SEOs also need to adapt accordingly. The mobile-first index merely represents another evolutionary step in the development of search and user behavior.