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What is Google’s mobile-first indexing (and its impact on your website)

What is mobile first indexing

As a website owner seeking your claim to fame, you’ve known since the moment you chose to create a website that SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a high priority, which is why now is a great time to tune in. SEO is a constantly evolving field and there are a lot of modifications in the way Google ranks websites. But over the past few years the web design and SEO community have been somewhat transformed by mobile-first indexing.

As a vast majority of your visitors are already seeing your website from their smartphone, you need to pay a great deal of attention to it. More specifically, you really need to provide your users with an equally fulfilling experience on smartphones and desktops when entering your site. Hence, it’s time to tune up your mobile site full throttle as part of your wider marketing strategies, and we’re here to help.

What is mobile-first indexing?

To put it simply, indexing is the process by which a search engine scans and saves the information from a website. Based on this information, the algorithm can then decide what will be the ranking of the website for a specific keyword search. But since more and more people are accessing websites from smartphones the emphasis put on desktops for indexing didn’t really make sense anymore. This is why Google announced in November 2016 a project to reverse the way pages were indexed: mobile-first indexing.

The concept behind this is actually easy to understand. It means that the mobile version will be considered the primary version of your website when it comes to indexing. It’s important to note that the “mobile-first” is not a “mobile-only:” sites that don’t have a mobile version will be indexed based only on the desktop one, risking to fall second to ones with mobile versions in the ranking competition.

It's important to note here that mobile-first indexing and mobile usability, while related are not the same thing.

“So, first off, again mobile usability is completely separate from mobile-first indexing.
A site can or cannot be usable from a mobile point of view, but it can still contain all of the content that we need for mobile-first indexing.
An extreme example, if you take something like a PDF file, then on mobile that would be terrible to navigate. The links will be hard to click, the text will be hard to read.
But all of the text is still there, and we could perfectly index that with mobile-first indexing. Mobile usability is not the same as mobile-first indexing.”
John Mueller, Google

On March 26, 2018, Google officially announced the implementation of mobile-first indexing. Their original plan was to have most websites on mobile-first indexing by September 2020, that was then pushed back further to March 2021, and then November of the same year. Google them removed this deadline on themselves citing the unreadiness of some sites to make the switch.

However all sites that went live after July 1, 2019 are mobile-indexed be default. You can also check this in your Google Search Console either on the Settings page, or in the URL Inspection Tool. While originally cited as a revolution, mobile-first indexing is now considered the norm by many in the design and SEO communities.

To support this, Google themselves estimated in 2020 that around 70% of all sites were indexed mobile-first.

Is your website ready for mobile-first indexing?

The mobile-first index revolution means that your website needs to have a mobile version as perfectly optimized as its desktop one if it wants to stand a chance in the “page-one-ranking” competition. One of the first things you should do is check if your web designer or website builder can deliver a mobile-friendly version of your site. Then take a moment to browse your website from a smartphone to make sure all your content fits in an easily readable manner. You’ll see that there might be many things for you to improve – from the content to the navigation and the layout. You might even need to create a mobile website from scratch.

These are a couple of things you should make sure are the same between your mobile and desktop versions of your site:

  • Meta data

  • Robots.txt tags

  • Structured data

  • Content

  • Site navigation

  • Site speed and load time: website performance

It's also a good idea, when auditing your site or assessing its performance (both content and technical) to do so with a mobile user agent - that is a tool which asses the mobile version of your site, because then it experiences what Google (and potentially most of your users) experiences when it crawls.

If you’re a Wix user, the story has a happier ending. You can sit back, grab an iced coffee, and prop your feet up because you just received your ‘get out of jail free card.’ That’s right: you already have a mobile website, whose structure is fully optimized for the mobile-first indexing. When you create the desktop version of your website, the Wix Editor automatically produces its smartphone/tablet equivalent. The exact same content is preserved and duplicated, from your internal linking and menu options to the very alt text of your images. It’s a big game-changer, as the golden rule for standing a chance to rank high is to keep your data consistent across the different versions of your site (desktop and mobile).

How to switch to mobile layout on Wix

7 tips to enhance the mobile version of your site

Even if your site is mobile-indexing by default, you still might want to offer your visitors an even better mobile user experience. Here are few simple steps to make the most out of your existing content:

01. Think ahead

There’s already a lot you can do for the mobile version of your website while working on the desktop version. For example, it’s highly recommended to implement a structure based on strips and columns and to group elements together. Using these techniques when designing for your desktop site will make your mobile site look extra clean, as they are built to be flexible and fit any screen and device. Here are some instructions to implement the perfect strips and columns, and group elements. Conversely, it’s best to avoid big text and blank spaces, as they won’t flow well with the mobile design.

From desktop to mobile view on Wix

02. Add a Quick Action Bar (QAB)

The QAB is an informational triggering section that appears when users visit your site. It presents them with instant buttons to your most strategic locations so that they don’t have to search your menu erratically. You can customize the exact actions that’ll be displayed on the bar, such as a link to your Facebook page, access to your blog and sending a direct email. To set up the QAB, simply access your ‘Mobile Editor’ and turn on the ‘Quick Action Bar’ under the ‘Mobile Tools’ menu item.

04. Optimize your mobile layout

With the Wix Editor, you have the ability to drag boxes of content and images around, to obtain the exact result you envision for the mobile version of your site. However, if you’re not a professional web designer, or simply aren’t sure of how you want your layout to look, there’s a feature that’s right for you. All you need to do is access the Page Layout Optimizer and click ‘Optimize Now.’ The Editor will automatically move things around so that it fits neatly the grids of any small screen.

05. Customize your menu

You can entirely customize your mobile menu, from its design (colors, themes, sizes, etc.) to the way it opens (left-side, center, or right-side). This way, navigation is truly optimized for mobile users. The best thing is that all the changes you’ll make on your mobile menu won’t affect the desktop one. Just click on the menu icon in your Mobile Editor and play around with the different ways to customize your mobile menu.

06. Hide unnecessary elements

As we said, the Wix Editor automatically duplicates your desktop website into the mobile version. However, in order to give visitors a simple way to browse your site from their smartphones, you might want to leave some features or content aside. That’s what the Wix Hidden Elements tool is about. In a click, you can hide entire parts of your site. Don’t worry, as every hidden component can resurface just as easily.

07. Don’t forget the Back to Top Button

If you have a long feed on your mobile site, it can sometimes be a chore for users to scroll back to the top of your page. Remember: your goal is to make your users’ experience as comfortable as possible. We would also like to help you with that, which is why we offer a simple solution: the Back to Top Button. This smart feature automatically sends your visitors to the start of your feed, with a simple touch of the screen. To turn it on, access your ‘Mobile Tools’ and look for the Back to Top Button.

08. Chat with visitors on the go

On your Wix desktop site, there is an option to install both ChatBot and Wix Chat – which can be used simultaneously or separately. Both show up as an icon that visitors can click to receive immediate assistance. ChatBot is pre-programmed by you to automatically answer customers’ questions, while Wix Chat allows you to answer questions manually – from your computer or smartphone. Good news! Both apps will automatically show up on the mobile version of your site, for a perfect customer experience.

To learn more about anything website SEO related, check out the Wix SEO Hub.

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