In this episode of the I’ve Heard That podcast on the Hurrdat Media Network, host Meghan Trapp is joined by SEO Director Ross Allen and Digital Strategy Director Aaron Mackel to talk about what Google’s mobile-first index means for the future of SEO and website optimization.
How did the mobile index become the norm?
Allen: It was way back in 2015 and 2016 that Google first introduced the idea that they were going to bring in a mobile index. At that point, it was way off in the future, and you didn’t have to care about it. But in hindsight, people should’ve really taken a lot more notice of it. Starting in 2017, websites started to get moved from the desktop-focused index to the mobile-first index. And then in late 2019, Google said, “Okay, here’s your hard-and-fast date. March 2021. We’re moving the entire web to the mobile index.”
How can you adjust for the mobile-first index?
Mackel: For a mobile-ready site, you really need to be thinking about user experience. We all know that people need digestible content, and mobile has made that even more important. You really need to think about how things on your website are showing up for people, how easy it is for them to access information, and even just how the page looks. There’s a lot that goes into mobile-first designs, especially now that adjusting mobile websites for desktop is the norm, instead of the other way around.
Allen: Mobile websites in the past tended to be stripped-down versions of desktop sites. So they may have been mobile-ready, but they weren’t mobile-friendly. Now we live in the broadband era and online access is more instantaneous, which is one of the reasons Google has moved to the mobile index. So having a full website on mobile that looks and functions correctly isn’t the exception anymore—it’s the norm. Your mobile website needs to be reflective of your full desktop site and work in a way that people expect on a mobile device.
What happens if your mobile site and desktop site are separate?
Allen: That’s still fine, as long as you have them linked to the appropriate alternate tags and Google can see the relationship between them. You can still have that and rank as you did before, but you need to have everything equally represented on both sites so that you don’t have a different experience on one compared to the other. Both sites need to offer the exact same experience, products, and services.
Mackel: It’s so much more maintenance to manage two separate sites. If you have a good mobile-friendly site, it’s going to work on both desktop and mobile anyway. So I think people definitely prefer to manage one site over two.
Allen: Yeah, Google prefers to have a responsive website that will resize images and text depending on the view size. It doesn’t mean you can’t succeed with an alternative, but responsive sites are preferred. Designing websites mobile-first is the ideal approach. Otherwise, you’re trying to squeeze everything from your desktop in.
Are there industries where desktop sites are still #1?
Allen: Many service-industry sites, like those for home services and repairs, are traditionally accessed from a desktop. Whereas when users are looking for something “fun” like a bar or a restaurant, they do so on a mobile device. I think there’s a definite split between “service” areas and “entertainment” areas. And I think it’s generational, too.
Mackel: I think if an industry requires more research, then an individual will be more likely to go to their desktop. Industries like e-commerce are ideal for mobile experiences because shopping is easy and people enjoy doing it.