What Google’s Mobile-First Index Means for Small Business

From mobilegeddon back in 2015 to mobile-first in 2018, Google has been all about how users are interacting with websites from a mobile device like a cell phone or tablet for years.

The preferred mode of internet consumption officially switched to mobile devices in 2015, and it was only a matter of time before search engines adapted to this sea-change in tech. The April 2015 Google algorithm update (nicknamed “Mobilegeddon” because of the apocalyptic impact it had on unprepared websites) was one of the first to put a huge emphasis on mobile-responsiveness for sites.

More recently, Google announced the onset of a mobile-first index in December 2017, which (predictably) stirred questions, debate, and even panic at times among webmasters and SEOs.

Here’s what small business owners need to know about Google’s mobile-first index:

Why did Google switch to a mobile-first index?

Rankings are all about relevance. Put simply, if a website’s content closely matches the content of a Google user’s search query, it will theoretically rank well on Google. The trouble with that, it turns out, is that there tends to be significant discrepancies between the content on most mobile websites and their desktop websites, which tend to be more comprehensive.

Historically, Google’s ranking systems looked at the desktop version of a website’s content to determine how relevant it was to a user’s search query. But As Google explained in its initial announcement of the change, “This can cause issues when the mobile page has less content than the desktop page because our algorithms are not evaluating the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher.

Perfectly responsive design rules the mobile-first index

If your website hasn’t been updated in a hot minute, there’s a good chance your website isn’t up-to-snuff where it concerns Google’s preference for fully responsive websites.

What is Responsive Design?

Truly responsive or mobile friendly design means your site has a dynamic design that offers a great user experience and complete information on all devices. With responsive design, we’re not talking about a stripped down version of your “main” desktop website with the bare minimum of information for users who happen to log on from a mobile phone. In fact, that’s one of the things that could cause your business to lose favor with Google.

If you’re unsure about your site’s mobile-responsiveness, try typing in your URL on a smartphone browser, and ask yourself the following questions:

Is the text obscenely small?

Are there design elements completely out-of-place, or weirdly sized?

Does your mobile site look like a tiny clone of your desktop site?

Is there information on the desktop version of your website that you can’t access or view from a mobile phone?

Is your website an m.site?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your site probably isn’t mobile-responsive or up to par with the new mobile-first requirements, and you may experience ranking penalties.

Non-responsive sites have been penalized for years, but Google’s mobile-first index will double down on sites that are still desktop-dependent.

If you still have an m.site, your website is in a ranking world of pain. These band-aid fixes started showing up in 2010 as a response to the sudden surge in mobile web-browsing. They are barely-functional, often ugly, and despised by Google.

Long story short: If your site isn’t mobile-responsive, you’ll need to get to work improving the mobile experience you’re providing your visitors. And again, get rid of the m.sites.

Don’t neglect the rest of your web presence

Your website is the hub of your online presence, but it might not be your biggest source of customers. Just as more users are visiting your website from mobile devices these days, the same is true of the rest of your online presence. Business listings (citations), social media profiles, blog content, and PPC are great vehicles for promoting your business, and should also be optimized for mobile.

Let the mobile-first name be your guide

Though Google’s crawlers must be appeased, they shouldn’t be the intended audience. Focus on users, who are actual people (with some rare exceptions). If any part of your web presence doesn’t perform well on mobile, you need to fix it.

Your site’s SEO is a carefully cultivated and complex ecosystem, empowered by useful, immersive content, and depressed by bad, spammy, and useless content. This ecosystem must be brought to 2018 standards, and that means mobile-responsiveness.

In the end, the very term “mobile-first” should be your guide. When planning out the design of  a new website, or the redesign of an existing, non-responsive site, consider the mobile experience – you know, as the name implies – first.