Google made another announcement recently that is generating considerable conversation. Over the next few months they will create a new mobile index. What's really notable is this new index will become their primary index, eventually replacing the desktop-first version. The goal of this move is to provide the ever-increasing number of mobile users with a superior online experience. The move towards a separate mobile index comes in response to the hyper-growth in mobile usage. In 2015 when speaking about the need for mobile indexing, Gary Illyes said that having a separate index for mobile users did not make sense when more searches were performed on desktop. Since the tide has shifted and mobile searches have outpaced desktop since about half way through 2015, it's now time for a mobile-first index.
What will the mobile index change?
What this means for rankings, SEO, and user experience precisely remains to be seen as we all wait for the index to officially go live. We do know, however, that in the past Google ran into at least two problems.
- People do not link to the mobile version of sites as much as they do for desktop. Since the Google algorithm takes links into account when determining the value of particular sites, this problem impacts their ability to effectively rank sites.
- Many users also have a tendency to shorten the content they post on the mobile versions of their site. In these situations, often two pages are considered canonical, depending upon whether the user is on desktop or mobile - but one is longer and more thorough than the other. While sometimes mobile users appreciate this, as they were not looking for long content to scroll through, other times they get frustrated because they land on a page that does not have all the information they thought they would receive.
Since Google has announced that they are closer to releasing their new mobile algorithm, we can assume that they have found ways around these challenges. It is possible, therefore, that certain signals will rise or decrease in importance on the mobile index.
When can we expect the mobile index to go live?
Google has worked on the mobile index for a few years, with them publicly confirming the project back in March 2015. Since Google has now said that they are only a few months away from release, it seems as though they are close to completion. We think SEOs and site owners may start to see the index in the first half of 2017, but we will update our prediction as we receive more information.
What can site owners do to prepare for the mobile index?
In April 2015, when Google released its Mobile Update, businesses needed to ensure their domains were mobile friendly to avoid being penalized. When the index goes live, it is likely Google will be even more particular about their standards for ‘mobile friendly’. Sites will need to do more than just use responsive design - they will need to understand the unique behavior of their mobile users and create content that meets their needs. Good mobile sites should avoid:
- Blocked or unplayable content
- Redirects that take users to unrelated pages on the mobile site - such as redirecting those who click on your site’s About Us link to the homepage
- Error messages that only appear for mobile users
- Interstitials that cover the contents of your page when a user tries to access your materials. Google prefers fixed banners.
- A slow load time
- Small font sizes that are hard to read on mobile screens
It's also important to make your site easy for mobile users to navigate. This entails using buttons that are easy for mobile users to click, and limiting the number of form fields or pages to click through in order to accomplish their objectives. To significantly improve page load speed, which is critical to the mobile customer experience, also consider Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) as a core component of your strategy. For pages with a high number of mobile visitors, AMP-enabled pages load lightning fast, keeping customers engaged and reducing abandonment rates.
How BrightEdge can help
BrightEdge can help you by identifying the needs, wants and moments that matter to your mobile audiences. BrightEdge Data Cube gives you market-wide insights on the moments, or topics, that your target audiences care about on mobile, so that you can create the right content. BrightEdge Recommendations will help you optimize your web content for mobile so that it aligns to your audiences' needs, and with AMP support for Top Stories, you'll know when you need to AMP-enable content. Then with BrightEdge StoryBuilder, you can track and measure results from those who visit your web site from mobile devices. Bringing this all together, you'll be equipped to create mobile experiences that will engage and convert your target customers -and keep them coming back.