7 tips to get your website ready for Google’s Mobile-First Index

Last month we covered the fact that Google announced the start of Mobile-First Index and what it means for your website (click here to read about it). Following on from that, we wanted to give you all some advice on what you can do in the immediate future regarding Mobile-First.

Considering the fact that Mobile-First is one of the biggest changes to the SEO industry since Mobilegeddon itself, it’s imperative that you take note of it as a website owner. Whilst we understand that this may seem a bit intimidating, we are here to help! So, let’s take a look at the top 7 things you need to work on to be ready for Mobile-First Index.

7. Review Mobile user engagement

The very first thing you should be doing is looking at how your website performs on Mobile devices. This includes the technical aspects of how it looks, but also how people actually use it.

The most obvious place to start looking is in Google Analytics; check to see if your Bounce Rate is higher on Mobile devices than on Tablets or Desktops. This could, potentially, mean that users are not finding your website enticing enough, or maybe even finding it difficult or confusing to use on Mobiles.

Next, take a look at the Average Session Duration as well as the conversion rates for Mobile users. By combining these three statistics, you will get a much better and clearer picture of how Mobile users interact with the website.

If the stats look good, then you probably don’t have much to worry about in terms of engagement. However, if they aren’t great, then you need to move on to the next step.

In order to get a better understanding of exactly how Mobile users engage with the website, you need to make use of heat mapping software. This type of software allows you to see which elements of the website get interacted with the most. Some even give you the option to watch a recording of the user’s actual behaviour on the website

Note: With GDPR coming into effect (there’s more info on that here), you need to make sure that your chosen heat mapping software follows the new data privacy laws. Our preferred software, Hotjar, states that it is updating the tools and recording to be fully compliant (read more here).

6. Check for Mobile crawl errors

When it comes to crawling errors, especially those listed in Search Console, we check our clients’ websites for them on a weekly basis. We know that this can be a time-consuming task that many internal marketing executives and managers cannot spare the time to carry out. That’s why it is usually left up to agencies like us to look after.

However, we would highly recommend that you spend at least one afternoon carefully reviewing any and all crawl errors reported for Mobile devices. To do this, the first thing you should do is take a look at Google Search Console and see what errors are listed under the Smartphone tab.

Note: as Google is currently working on the Beta version of a new Search Console, to access the Smartphone specific information, you may need to return to the “old version” of Search Console by clicking on the “Go to the old version” link in the left-hand navigation.

The next step is to use a piece of “crawler” software. These will crawl through your website in a similar manner to Google, listing out exactly what they find. This way, you can get a clear understanding of how Google will see and understand your website.

We would recommend Screaming Frog to do this, as it is incredibly in-depth with its crawl, meaning you get very accurate data from it. However, please be aware that you would need to change the User Agent to get the most reliable data for Mobile specifically. To do this in Screaming Frog, go to the main menu of the app and click on Configuration, then User Agent.

In the box that pops up, set the Preset User Agent to “GoogleBot for smartphones (post April 18th, 2016)”, so that you are using the most up to date version of the User Agent. Then, once the tool has finished crawling your website, you can find the Crawl Errors in the right-hand Overview section, under “Response Codes”.

Compile a list of all the crawl errors from your chosen crawler tool and Search Console, then speak to either your SEO agency or your developers to get them resolved as soon as possible.

5. Test and improve your page load speed

With Google’s constant push towards Mobile devices (including Mobile-First Index) as well as the impending Google Speed update in July this year, getting your website to load as fast as possible should be a huge priority for you.

The first thing to do to determine your Page Load Speed is to go into Google Analytics and navigate to Behaviour > Site Speed > Page Timings. Next, set the Segment to Mobile Traffic. This will let you see the average Page Load Time (in seconds) for each page on your website based upon actual user data.

The next move, in terms of gathering the performance data, is to use Google’s own tool, PageSpeed Insights. This will give you a very top level score to show how good Google things your speed is at that specific moment. Do this for each page recorded in Google Analytics with a red Page Load Speed.

Then, you should compare it with the result from GTMetrix as well, to get a more detailed view of what needs to be addressed.

By compiling a list of all of the recommended fixes for each of these pages, you’ll be able to give your developer a headstart and a roadmap of what they need to do to improve Page Load Speed for the website.

We would also recommend looking into the use of Accelerated Mobile Pages (you can read about those here) as they will offer both Google and users a much faster experience with your website. These will need a developer’s input and expertise to implement but are highly recommended as they significantly improve Page Load Speed since Google will favour the AMP version of a page within Search Results.

4. Re-optimise your content for Mobile

It may seem a bit strange at first, but research from BrightEdge suggests that 79% of keyword searches actual show significantly different results on Mobile when compared to Desktop. This is due to a number of factors, but content optimisation is definitely a key aspect.

As such, it is highly recommended that you review the structure of your website and its content in order to determine the key pages for Mobile users. Then, you need to look at how well those pages are optimised for your target keywords, as well as how well they perform on Mobile devices in terms of engagement and functionality currently.

Once you have this information, you (or an SEO agency) can analyse and strategise how to optimise these pages to gain the best performance in Mobile search results.

Whilst many will view Mobile-First Index as a kick to sort out user experience, rankings are going to be heavily affected (no matter what Google has publicly stated at the moment). The sheer fact that searches return different results on Mobile and Desktop is proof of this. Therefore, now is the perfect opportunity to build up your Mobile optimisation and take the higher positions away from your competitors.

3. Ensure your technical SEO is up to scratch

You may have your on-page SEO basics covered, such as your Page Titles and Heading tags (you do have them covered, right?). But there is a whole host of other aspects to Technical SEO which you should be working on as well.

The first thing we would recommend is to look into Schema tagging. If you’re an e-commerce website, the making use of the Product and Review Schema seems like a no-brainer. On the other hand, if your website is a catalogue or services site, then there are tonnes of other options, such as Local Business and Service Schema itself.

Schema, on average, leads to a 30% increase in Click Through Rate, which would lead to better rankings in Google. This is because, in essence, searchers are Google’s customers and, therefore, Google wants to keep them happy. It does this by ranking sites that users visit and engage with higher, so by increasing your Click Through Rate, you improve your chances of being pushed up the rankings.

The second aspect we would recommend is looking at your Site Architecture. In short, you need to work out whether your website is easy to navigate, has a clear structure and a definite hierarchy to the pages. This affects your SEO in two ways;

  • Site equity is funneled down to internal pages mainly through the navigation of the website.
  • Users need the navigation to find their way around the site.

Therefore, a poor or low-quality hierarchy and badly planned navigation can have seriously negative effects on a website. This is especially true on Mobile devices, where the screens are small and people’s attention spans even smaller. You need to make the website’s structure as clear, concise and simple as possible

Doing this will actually help to drive more equity to the internal pages, making them strong. It will also help to improve user engagement, as visitors will be able to find what they are looking for much quicker.

2. Test, test and test again

This one may seem obvious, and you may roll your eyes at it, but it really is important. We also don’t mean you should just test the new things you are working on. Instead, you should be testing every aspect of your website on Mobile devices.

Also, don’t limit it to just one device, or even one iteration of a device. For example, what works on an iPhone X may not work on an iPhone 5s. Now, you may be thinking that you don’t need to worry about older phones, but we have seen a number of websites where up to 65% of visitors from Mobile devices use “out of date” devices.

Therefore, if you only test on the latest version of a phone, be it Android or Apple, you could be excluding a huge amount of your audience. Then, they may end up finding a broken website, which will lead to a huge drop in engagement. This, in turn, will cause Google to look unfavourably upon your website, pushing you down the rankings on Mobile.

Since the entirety of Google’s search results index is now in the process of moving to use the Mobile index only, this could have massive negative effects on your business.

That’s why you should be testing every single aspect of your website on every device you can get your hands on. Doing this level of due diligence for yourselves will likely unearth a number of issues which will need to be addressed. However, you will almost certainly need a developer to fix these problems, so be aware of that.

1. Keep an eye on Google’s crawl rates

The final thing you should be doing to prepare for Mobile-First Index is watching how often and how intensely Google is crawling your website. If there is a sudden jump in the Crawl Rate, shown in the old version of Google Search Console, then it likely means that the Mobile-First Index crawler has made its way to your part of the internet.

At that moment, you have officially become part of the Mobile-First Index and will start to see changes in your rankings and Search Visibility (potentially).

Therefore, since you will have carried out or be working through all of these recommended fixes and actions, it is important to note when Mobile-First Index came to your website. This can be added to Google Analytics with an annotation set to the specific date. From there, you will be able to see exactly how your website’s performance changes after Mobile-First Index.

This, in turn, will allow you to determine any other potential issues if there is a drop in performance. Because of that, we cannot recommend keeping track of Google’s Crawl Rate higher.

There’s always more to do

Those were our top 7 tips for getting your website ready for when the Mobile-First Index comes knocking on your doors. By carrying out each of these, you’ll be putting your business’ website in a far stronger position for when the switchover has completed.

We know and understand that these tips are time-consuming and can seem somewhat daunting as well. If you need help or advice on how to get your website ready for the Mobile First Index, feel free to get in touch with us today. We would be more than happy to discuss what your next steps should be!

Written by Gareth Torrance

Hello there. I'm Gareth, the Digital Marketing Manager at Brave. With almost a decade of experience in PPC and SEO, I've seen everything from Pandas and Penguins to the horrible time that was Mobilegeddon. As an Adwords Certified Google Specialist, I have lived through almost every major shift in the industry! And that makes me feel old.

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