Google to Switch to Mobile-First Indexing by September 2020: Here’s What This Means For Your Website’s SEO

Google’s years-long effort to make the web more mobile-friendly seems, at last, to be coming to its conclusion. Beginning in July of last year, Google has made mobile-first indexing the default setting for new websites. However, by September 2020, Google plans to officially launch mobile-first indexing for the entire web.

If you’re a website owner or SEO professional, mobile-first indexing is a game-changer. Although 70% of the web is currently indexed for mobile devices, a sizable minority of legacy sites are indexed for desktop devices first. In a matter of months, that’s all about to change.

Below, we’ve touched on what Google’s shift in indexing strategy means for marketers and SEOs, as well as its impact on the internet writ large.

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

Google’s move to mobile-first indexing means that the search engine giant is now utilizing the mobile version of a website’s content to determine ranking and indexing. In years past, the desktop version of a website was used to determine SEO ranking and performance—come September, however, this will all change. 

The implication for website owners is that you can expect your SEO performance to take a hit unless it’s mobile-optimized. If you’re responsible for legacy websites designed and launched before 2016, when Google first started mobile-first indexing on a limited scale, you may find your ranking on SERPs slip when your website is reindexed come September. That is, unless you reconfigure your website to optimize the user experience (UX) for mobile visitors.

Why the Indexing Switch?

The internet is changing, and it’s time Google’s indexing strategy reflected that. In recent years, mobile devices have surpassed desktops in their share of internet access worldwide. Rather than office cubicles, the internet is becoming increasingly accessed by smartphones and handheld devices.

In the US and Europe, over 97 and 93 percent of the population have mobile devices with broadband access. Such a high degree of market penetration was unheard of even a decade ago. Roughly 52 percent of all global online traffic is now driven by mobile devices. The shift in how we engage with the internet has changed how advertisers and web designers appeal to users, with more and more constructing their UX to appeal principally to mobile viewers.

How to Optimize Content for Mobile and Improve Your SEO in 2020

Google’s indexing functions are carried out by a “Googlebot” that crawls properties on the internet. Your job as a webmaster is to ensure that Googlebots run into as few obstacles or delays as possible when crawling your site. To do this, we’ve listed a few helpful tips below to get your website optimized for mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.

Keep it Consistent

Ensure that the content on your desktop and mobile renderings are identical. If Google recognizes a mismatch between the text on your mobile site and desktop URL, you can expect to be issued an effective Google penalty. The content on your mobile site should be roughly equal to the content displayed on desktop devices.

Match Your Structured Data

Not all sites incorporate structured data, which provides explicit clues directly in a site’s source code to help search engines index their site. However, if yours does feature structured data, ensure that the mobile and desktop structured datasets are largely matching, especially those emanating from the following three essential domains:

  • VideoObject
  • Product
  • Breadcrumb

Match Your Metadata

Meta descriptions and descriptive titles are important elements of modern websites because they improve your visitor’s overall experience, and they help Googlebots understand your website’s content faster. Ensure that your desktop and mobile metadata match across all versions of your site.

Follow Image Use Best Practices

Bogging your website down with heavy, high-resolution image files can bloat your site’s load time and increase your bounce rate. Starting in September, Google’s mobile-first indexing won’t favor websites that don’t follow image use best practices. To streamline your website’s mobile version and improve mobile load times, follow these basic rules:

  • Only use supported image file formats (e.g., .SVG)
  • Don’t use URLs that vary when images load
  • Use high-quality, high-resolution images
  • Ensure that alt text matches between mobile and desktop
  • Provide captions, filenames, and descriptive titles for images

Make It Googlebot Accessible

If Googlebots cannot crawl your website, your SEO performance is going to suffer. Fortunately, making sure Googlebots can access your site is a straightforward process. 

Start by ensuring that you use the same meta robots tags in the source code of your mobile and desktop sites. For example, you’re going to want to double-check that the “nofollow” and “noindex” robots tags are consistent across both properties. Otherwise, Google may fail to crawl (and therefore index) your site. 

Also, it should go without saying that you shouldn’t add a “disallow directive” in the meta robots tags of your website. If you do, you will effectively block Googlebots from indexing your site which, of course, is more than counter-productive from an SEO standpoint.

Get Ready for the Google Update

Once again, Google is changing the way we create and interact with content on the web. Luckily, most SEOs, webmasters, and web designers aren’t going to have to make any substantive changes to their web properties before mobile-first indexing goes live in September. However, older websites and legacy web properties should be updated according to the guidelines specified above to ensure that your site can be crawled and indexed by Google once the changes go into effect.

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