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Customer Experience | Digital Marketing

Mobile-only Indexing: How to Get Your Website Ready for Google’s Biggest Update in Years

Katie Leask
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March 23, 2021
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Read Time: 5min

If you’re confused about the internet’s latest buzzword, don’t worry; we’re here to explain what mobile-only indexing means in simple terms. We’ll also show you what to do to ensure your site isn’t negatively affected.

So, in one sentence; what is mobile-only indexing? 

Mobile-only indexing means that Google will now only use the mobile version of your site to evaluate the relevance of your page to the user’s search query.

Let’s break that down. When you search for something on Google, Google crawls hundreds of sites, creating a customer journey analysis, to find you the most relevant and authoritative pieces of content. The Google Search algorithm looks at multiple factors (such as what keywords you used, your location, the usability of pages, and the expertise of available sources) to give you the best possible answer, thereby creating an incredibly satisfying user experience. You got what you came for; you’ll use Google again.

Now, Google used to crawl your desktop site for these ranking signals. Then, in 2019, it moved to mobile-first indexing which prioritised your mobile site (but still fell back on your desktop site if needed). In 2021, Google is moving to mobile-only indexing which means – yep, you guessed it – they will now only crawl and index your mobile site.


Is
mobile-only indexing a big deal, then?

Yes, it’s a big deal. And here’s why: if you’re currently showing content on your desktop site that you don’t also show on your mobile site, that content is now essentially invisible in the eyes of Google. So this could be a big issue for your SEO efforts if you’ve been tailoring your content by device. What will this look like in practice? Well, you’ll be seeing a pretty hefty drop-off in your organic visibility if your SEO-optimised content isn’t visible across all devices.


Why, Google, why?! 

While true this is a major Google update, it’s one that should come as little surprise. Google has been making moves towards prioritising the mobile experience for a while now, so consider this the latest cherry on top of the mobile customer journey cake, if you will.

And in fairness to Google, this switch to mobile-only indexing makes a lot of sense; 80% of internet users own a smartphone and people spend 69% of their media time on mobile. The world is going mobile and it’s not slowing down any time soon, so creating better experiences for mobile users is a no-brainer. After all, Google wants to keep you coming back, right?


So….panic stations?

No, don’t panic! It’s likely the fix is relatively simple – you might just need to devote some time and resources to tweaking the setup of your website now and then refining how you manage content going forward (we’ll cover this more further down).

If you’re looking for more insight on the technicalities of this change, then there are plenty of resources online that provide an in-depth lowdown – we loved this incredibly informative piece from Traffic Think Tank, for example – so there’s no point in us regurgitating the same. What we can do, however, is share our expert insights based on visual merchandising analytics, customer journey analysis, and AI analytics. In no time you’ll know how to nail your desktop and mobile customer experience because AI analytics is what we do best.


Our top tips for not killing your website


1. 
Ensure your desktop and mobile content is the same

The easiest way to ensure your website doesn’t take a nose dive off an SEO cliff is to keep your mobile and desktop content the same, especially the content signals that directly impact crawling, indexing and ranking (such as on-page content, internal links, titles and descriptions). Gone are the days of creating mobile and desktop versions of the same content.


2.
Double down on responsive web design

If you’ve been flirting with responsive web design for a while, then now’s the time to launch full speed ahead. Why? Because a responsive website serves one consistent ‘version’ of the page code and is the single most straightforward way to ensure parity between your desktop and mobile content, and a great online browsing experience for both.

By prioritising the creation of a simple and intuitive mobile user journey (one that’s the same on desktop thanks to responsive web design), your SEO efforts won’t be in vain and your website will continue to rank on Google.


3.
The mobile-friendliness test

If your site is not mobile-friendly, you’re going to really struggle to rank. Luckily, there’s a super simple way to check how mobile-ready your site is – Google’s mobile-friendliness test. Remember, ensuring your website passes this test is an absolute minimum for your 2021 digital strategy. If your site fails, you’d better believe you’ll pay for it in search engine rankings. But not only that, your business will pay for it in unhappy customers, meaning your bottom line will pay for it in lost revenue. Yes, you really need to pass this test.


4.
Optimise your customer journey (with your mobile hat on)

‘We know mobile users behave differently from desktop users, with different goals, and in a different context,’ says Chris Camps, Product Marketing Manager at Contentsquare.

Being able to spot differences in behaviour and conversion gives you the insight you need to go beyond best practice and tailor the experience for your customers – then build a customer journey that works across both mobile and desktop.

Ask yourself some simple (but very effective) questions; does your site load quickly on mobile? Is your landing page too text-heavy? Do you really need that many images clogging up your homepage? Be ruthless in your answers. With Google now prioritising the mobile experience, it has never been more important to understand how your customers interact with your site and what’s causing them to bounce.

At Contentsquare, we believe that building stronger mobile experiences can help remove ‘fluff’ from your desktop experience too, so analysing your website with a mobile-first hat on can help you achieve an all-around digital journey glow up – and we’re really here for it.


5. Your desktop UX still matters (So pay attention to your UX analytics)

Let’s make one thing clear: this change doesn’t mean you can gleefully chuck your desktop UX plans into the bin. Oh no, they’re still just as important. In fact, for certain industries (such as B2B), the mobile revolution is yet to arrive – with mobile traffic accounting for just 17% of traffic for B2B brands according to our 2021 Digital Experience Benchmark Report.

‘Mobile-only indexing shouldn’t be thought of as a death knell for desktop,’ says Nicholas Teddy, Global Director of Digital Marketing at Contentsquare. ‘Instead, this update just codifies what has been a best practice for more than a decade: Create parity between your mobile and desktop experiences, whatever your industry. Don’t hide content from mobile visitors or give them impoverished experiences.’

Because quite simply, your site will suffer whether it’s B2B or not.


And we’re here to help!

At Contentsquare, we know a thing or two about creating digital experiences that your customers will love. Our expert capabilities (such as journey analysis, zoning, and session replay) help you understand how users are interacting with your site and give you the tools you need to optimise and level up your customer experience.

And thanks to Google’s mobile-first index, it’s never been more important to create seamless experiences across all devices. So why not join brands like Dreams, New Look, and Natwest Group and use Contentsquare’s world-leading digital experience insights platform to optimise your customer journey? Book a demo with us today.

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Author

Katie Leask

Katie is Contentsquare’s Content Marketing Manager for Northern Europe. With five years of content experience both agency and client-side, she knows a thing or two about creating content that drives traffic and converts. She enjoys reading, red wine and going to bed early. She’s also pretty fond of rooftops and is rarely seen without freshly painted nails.