This is episode 29 of All Things Blogging. In this episode, we're going to be talking about a major Google update that's coming very soon that could really shake things up. We'll talk about the easiest way to make sure your site is prepared, cover some dos and don'ts, and also share my strategy going forward. All this and more right after this.
Search Engine Nerds Podcast: Brent Csutoras Interviews Gary Illyes
Today, we're going to be talking about a major change that's coming to Google soon, and it's called mobile-first indexing. Now, I'll explain exactly what that is in just a minute, but first, let me give you an overview of what's been going on with mobile over the past, I don't know, 10 years or so.
Mobile First Indexing: How We Got Here
If you've been listening to the podcast for a little while now, you probably know that I'm really into search engine optimization. I've been pretty serious about it since 2005, and even before that, but 2005's when I started learning a lot and started blogging about it. I went to my first conference, search marketing conference in 2006. I'm sure people talked about it before then, but that was when I first heard about people were making websites specifically for mobile devices, and back then, they were really primitive. They had, I can't even remember what it was called, but these pages were just plain text, maybe with links, and if there were pictures, sometimes they didn't work.
I had a Nokia back then, and I remember being so excited to try to browse the web on this little phone, and it was probably the worst thing, not the worst thing, but it was pretty terrible.
Static, Separate, or M Dot Mobile Sites
Back then, there were two main options for doing mobile websites. The first was a static mobile site, and that was where you had one whole version of your website for desktop users, and then another separate version for mobile users. Basically, when someone came to your site, you would basically redirect them to, maybe you would call it mobile.mysite.com or m.mysite.com.
Adaptive or Dynamic Serving Mobile Sites
Now, the other option back then was something called adaptive design, and that would be where someone comes to your webpage, but before they actually even see anything, you have some logic or some code that looks to see what browser they're using, and if it's a mobile browser, you show them a strip-down version of your content maybe using a specific template for mobile. If it was a desktop user, you would show them the full site, so it's kind of like on the fly, deciding what you're going to show these people.
For both of those types of design, you could see that you had to maintain two separate, at least two separate templates, if not two completely separate sites, and as you can imagine, that gets really complicated. I actually have to manages a really large site that uses adaptive to show mobile, and it's a real nightmare when you have to keep track of changes that have been made on desktop and then port them over to the mobile layout. It's really a pain.
But that brings us to the third type of mobile design that you can do, and that's called responsive. Responsive design allows you to just have one version of a website, and it changes and adjust based on how big the browser window is. You can see an example of this if you just go to allthingsblogging.com and take your browser by the bottom right corner and drag it so that it's really skinny and tall, and you'll see that the site just adjust to fill that space. If you make it really wide, make a really wide browser window, you'll see that it also expands to fit there as well. It's really, a really amazing solution. I don't know who actually came up with it, but it's, is much better than either of the other two options.
The April 2015 Mobile-Friendly Ranking Algorithm Update (aka: Mobilegeddon)
In 2015, Google announced a mobile-friendly ranking algorithm change that was going to happen in April. With this update, pages that were mobile-friendly were going to rank higher than pages that were not mobile-friendly. As you can imagine, this really gave people some incentive including myself to make their websites mobile-friendly. A lot of companies were just freaking out trying to get their websites done by this deadline.
In the end, the changes really weren't that drastic or crazy. I think on the date that the change supposedly happened, I don't think anyone really even noticed anything. Maybe over the next several months, you could start to see some really subtle changes, but it was really clear now the direction Google was headed in. Over the next several months, they kept making more tools to help webmasters make their websites mobile-friendly, and they really started focusing on speed to making websites fast for mobile.
The Mobile First Index Announcement
Fast forward to 2016, I was at Pubcon, this is another search marketing conference, and Google's Gary Illyes was there. He is a webmaster trends analyst. He was doing a Q&A, and they were talking about mobile and a few other different things. At that conference, he announced that Google was going to be moving toward what is called mobile-first indexing.
Mobile First Indexing: What you need to know
Well, that's pretty much the whole backstory. I hope that wasn't too much information, but now you know how we got here. Now I'm going to explain exactly what a mobile-first indexing is.
What is Mobile First Indexing?
Currently, when Google goes out and crawls the web, they save the desktop version of websites, and that's the version that they collect and show in their search results. Well, the mobile-first indexing change is going to mean that instead of indexing the desktop version, they're going to index the mobile version.
What are the Implications?
Now, for people that have responsive websites, as you can imagine, since both versions have the same content, you're going to be okay, but for people that are doing adaptive or the separate mobile website, those are the people that might be in trouble because a lot of them have abbreviated content or shortened content on their mobile versions. They're going to have to figure out a way to cram all of the content that's in the desktop version into the mobile version; otherwise, their rankings are really going to drastically change because as much as people focus on external factors like backlinks and social media, on-page ranking factors really play a huge part. The words on your pages, the mark-up you use, the way you link your pages together play a really huge role in how Google ranks pages.
There's a Lot More to Being “Mobile Friendly” than Just Having a Responsive Layout
Now you know what mobile-first indexing is. Like I said, this is not new. I wrote a blog post back in October of 2016 saying that this mobile-first index is coming, and it's still not here yet, but the other day, Gary Illyes did another interview, and he did one on Search Marketing Nerds, or Marketing Nerds podcast I believe it's called? You should check that out if you haven't. It's really good. I'll leave a link to it in the show notes, but in the interview, he actually says, “Yes, this mobile-first index is still coming, and it's coming probably within a year, ” and it's actually based on the interview they've already started to roll it out some.
Some websites, he said specifically ones that are already moved over to responsive are already being indexed as mobile-first. He said there are a lot of sites that aren't mobile-friendly yet, and they're hoping to educate people more and get people to move to a responsive layout.
Fortunately for WordPress users. It's very easy. All you have to do is find a theme that is responsive. Most of them are these days. I'm going to drop a link in the show notes to point you in the right direction.
Make Sure You're Really Optimizing For Mobile Users
But more importantly, some of the other things that Gary mentioned were really interesting. He talked a lot about things that frustrate mobile users, things like flash or interstitials, for example, email pop-ups that want you to put in your email address, things that get in the way and frustrate users.
He also made a point that people on mobile typically don't have as much time as someone does on a full-size screen like a laptop or a desktop, and they don't want to have to wade through a bunch of text. This is something that I mentioned in the previous episode, making your content scannable. This is so much more important with mobile, it seems. He talked about adding call-outs or even adding kind of like the, if you have heard of the TLDR, like a summary before you even start your article so that someone can easily see what the content is about before they make a decision whether or not they're going to read it.
Even before I listened to this interview, I was already making some changes on All Things Blogging. I was making them based on some of the things I've been talking about recently like the fact that you really want to try and keep your visitors on your website as long as you possibly can. You don't want people just to come and see something and then leave. It's almost like the longer they stay, the better. It's a signal that says that they were satisfied with the content that they found on your site.
Because of these things, I was adding some related articles at the bottom of each post so that when someone gets down to the bottom at the end of a post, they'll see these thumbnails with some descriptions and text about things, hopefully, related to what they just read, and they might be interested and click to stay on the site.
I was also working on improving the scannability for the desktop, though. I wasn't looking at mobile at the time, just desktop, but now, I've really started to look at, specifically, at the mobile layout. I'll use my phone, or else I'll use the Chrome browser which has a really good mobile emulator. To use it, you can just right click and do inspect from the sub menu, and then once you're there, there's a small icon that lets you shrink your browser down into, you could choose between iPhone or some Galaxy phones, and that's very handy.
I was using that and specifically placing bold pieces of text, maybe bold summaries at the beginning or bold teasers, things that would make people see what the article's about and want to continue reading it.
Another thing I changed, and this is specifically based on something that Gary Illyes said, was that I removed the pop-up that was asking for people to join the mailing list. It's important to have my mailing list, but it's also really important that mobile users are not frustrated.
For now, I took the whole thing off, and I'll figure out something else to do. I've already got a form that just stays at the bottom of the site. What I'll probably end up moving to is something called a sticky bar. You've probably seen it. It's a really skinny form that hugs the very top of the browser window and not intrusive at all. That's, again, probably what I'll end up moving to.
Mobile First Indexing: My Plans Going Forward
Going forward, I'm just going to do things that I've just mentioned like making sure things are really scannable. Most importantly I'm going to start looking at things on a mobile screen, which I really don't do a lot when I publish, but I'm going to start doing that and make sure that it's interesting, that it's not boring to look at, and that people can scan it and get a really good idea of what it is.
Something I saw recently, it was really good idea, was having collapsible headers where instead of seeing a bunch of text, they'll just see the headers, and it would be almost like an outline, and then if they click on the header, it will expand and show a bunch of text. That way, at least people aren't overwhelmed at first. They can get a good idea of what's there. Of course, there are other options of how you can handle that, but that's something that I'm thinking about doing.
All right, we're about out of time. The takeaway here, again, is if you're not on a responsive theme yet, you need to get one. Also, make sure to make your content mobile-friendly. That means make it scannable, make it visually appealing, and add some things to keep people on the pages as long as you possibly can.
All right, hope this has been really helpful. I really appreciate you guys listening, and if you get a minute, please head over to iTunes or Stitcher or Google Play, anywhere else you're listening to this from and give us a review, give us a rating, give us five stars. Really appreciate that. Also, if you haven't had a chance to subscribe yet, you should do that so you don't miss any future episodes. We have an episode every Wednesday, so make sure to check back next week. As always, thank you so much for joining me. Hope the rest of your week is awesome. I hope you'll join me next week for another episode of All Things Blogging.