How to Prepare for Google’s Forthcoming Mobile-First Indexing

It’s been a long-time coming, but Google officially announced in October 2016 that it’s switching to a mobile-first index. Even before the number of searches on mobile overtook desktop around 2014, Google has been working to ensure that search results page is ready for a mobile world.

Preparing your local business clients for mobile-first indexing may seem like something only the “big” guys can afford to do, but it’s crucial that small and medium-sized businesses hop on the mobile bandwagon, too. Google reports that “mobile is the new local guide.”

Google’s own data reveals that over three quarters of local smartphone searches result in a visit to that business within a day, and over one quarter result in purchases.


Not preparing local business sites for mobile first indexing could be the equivalent of throwing money out of the window. So let’s talk about ways that this can be done.

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

Google’s search engine works by crawling through sites on the web and reading through all the data almost as a human would. The Google bots take that information and index it in a giant library. When a search engine user searches a particular query or topic, Google quickly goes through its index to find the most relevant result for that user.

Previously, Google has been crawling and indexing the web from a desktop computer’s point of view, which means that search engine results displayed a desktop computer site URL. Google did make updates to notate mobile-friendly sites and AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) in search engine results. However, when mobile-first indexing takes effect (probably sometime in early 2018), Google will crawl the web from a mobile device’s point of view.

This means local businesses without a mobile friendly site could potentially be ranked lower than they were before for important queries that drive traffic and conversions. A separate mobile site with pared down content will be the content that Google crawls and indexes–not robust desktop site content.

How Can Local Businesses Prepare for Mobile First Indexing?

Get a Website: First things first, if a local business doesn’t have a website, it’s important they get one. Many small businesses and entrepreneurs often rely on their Google My Business or Facebook pages to act as proxies for actual websites. In fact, Marissa Nordahl from Google My Business says that 60% of small businesses across the world don’t have their own websites.

Google has their own 1-page website builder called “Website” that connects to Google My Business pages (great for NAP consistency!). This is an easy option for local businesses that don’t have a dedicated digital marketer or huge marketing budget and businesses pay for the custom domain.

Other options include website design sites like WordPress, SquareSpace, Wix, Weebly and more. These might require a bit more know-how and time. However, regardless of how you create sites for SMBs, it’s important to create a responsive site.

Make Sure Sites are Responsive: There are three types of sites that could potentially help SMBs rank in mobile-first results: separate mobile sites, dynamic serving sites and responsive site. Long story short, the responsive site is oftentimes the easiest to create and maintain for local businesses.

  • Separate mobile sites are essentially just that–a completely separate site. Meaning business owners have to maintain two sites instead of one. Oftentimes, mobile sites have less content than desktop sites, and that’s not good for ranking.
  • Dynamic serving sites are often for very large companies with huge sites that want something specific to show up on mobile. This site type loads different HTML and CSS based on what device you use.
  • While a responsive design site is a single site, created in a way that it adjusts based on the user’s screen size (which means it adjusts to different smartphone and tablet sizes). Businesses have just one site to maintain and track metrics for, and site visitors can get a decent user experience on any device.

This may seem like a big hassle for those without a mobile-friendly website, but Adobe reports that 80% of users will not engage with a site when it’s content doesn’t load or display properly on a mobile device. How many of us have clicked a search result only to go back to the SERP when the site doesn’t “look right” on the device we’re using? Those bounces are conversions lost. Period.

If you create a site through the Google “Website” option, those sites are single-page and automatically responsive. Most of the themes on site builders like WordPress and SquareSpace are responsive as well, if you build the site yourself.

Local businesses that have been around for a while and got on the website train a long time ago will be the ones who have to make adjustments. Big switches in websites require a lot of careful consideration from SEOs, developers and web designers. If you have a site that needs to be made responsive, start now and make sure you do it correctly so you’ll be ahead of the mobile-first index.

Optimize Your Technical & On-Page SEO Mobile

Site Speed: Site loading time is just as important to users as having a mobile-friendly sites design. Data compiled by Kissmetrics indicates that “47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less.” People used to be more forgiving with mobile web because their networks may have been slow, but now people expect mobile-optimized sites and they expect them to load quickly.

You can check out the loading speed of your site with free tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights (which has tabs after you enter your URL to check issues with mobile and desktop) and GTMetrix (which requires a login to test from a mobile device perspective).

Google PageSpeed Insights

If you have a developer on hand, giving them information from these page speed tools can help them make changes that will help the user experience on your site. (Also, if you have a developer, have that person look at this set of suggestions for making your site as mobile friendly as possible.)

Title Tags & Meta Descriptions: Along with your site speed, on-page optimization for mobile can potentially be different than desktop. For example, mobile title tags are actually pixel-based (600px) and slightly longer than those on desktop. But it’s still important to check and make certain nothing important is getting cut off in mobile SERPs (and if it is, maybe move it further up in the title or meta description).

Make sure to get your target keyword/topic as close to the beginning of the title as possible. And never waste title tag or meta description characters on things like navigational titles (like Home or Services), write the title like you’re a user looking for that information.

Example of HOME in Title Tag

Even though meta descriptions aren’t a ranking factor, they can affect your click through rate. This is a user signal Google potentially takes into account when ranking sites. Take the user intent into account when writing meta descriptions for your website pages. If someone is searching for a local business related query, think about the Google micro-moments: Is this person here to know something, go somewhere, do something or buy something?

If your basement pipes have burst in the middle of the night and you need a plumber quickly, which result are you more likely to click and call ASAP?

  • Chicago Emergency Plumbers offer plumbing, leak detection & repair, water heater replacement, and more plumbing services in Chicago.
  • Chicago Emergency Plumber provides fast plumbing repair to the Chicago area 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 555-555-5555.

Probably the latter.

You can always track how these changes perform in Search Console. Note when the change is made. Then go into the Search Analytics section and check how the click through rate (clicks/impressions). If CTR goes up, it’s more successful. If CTR goes down, you can always change it back.

Nap Consistency: Even on mobile, NAP consistency is crucial. NAP stands for name, address, and phone number and NAP consistency refers to the coherence with which these three elements are displayed across websites, Google My Business pages and other online citations and directories. NAPs should be listed the exact same way across any digital platform–including mobile. This means using a full address on websites!

Also, you can make phone numbers click-to-call on your pages for mobile users by using this HTML:

<a href=”tel:1-555-555-5555″>1-555-555-5555</a>

This means that when the phone number is tapped on a mobile device, it will ask the user if they’d like to make a call to that number.

Optimize Your Content for Voice Search

Apple’s Siri was the first foray into voice search for many smartphone users. Nowadays, there are numerous platforms to just straight up ask your phone a question, including home assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Analytics company ComScore predicts that “by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches.”

A large part of SEO is working to determine user intent. Voice search has forced us to drill down even more on this as search engines like Google often provide a single result to voice search queries. The key to showing up in these results is to just flat out answer people’s questions as thoroughly and knowledgeably as you can.

You must be an expert in the field you represent. Write posts that answer the specific questions users ask most often. If a local handyman, give website visitors a comprehensive how-to on a smaller project, and become the go-to on bigger projects. Localize content to specific regional needs. A Georgia pest control company might write an extensive post on fire ant control in the summer or even helpful tips for when someone is stung.

Not sure what to write about? Find topics of interest in the Google related searches (at the bottom of the page when you search a topic). Look at what real people are asking on Yahoo Answers and Quora. You can also find questions and other related information on Answer the Public.

Answer the Public Install a Toilet Query

Not only will creating this type of content be good for a site’s voice search potential, it is just plain good user experience optimization. With Google paying closer attention to user signals, providing accurate, detailed content means an overall better experience for users. It may feel like you’re giving away the good stuff for free, but you’re actually establishing thought leadership at the local level. When people use a business’ content as their primary source of industry information, this business will be top of mind when a need for a related product or service arises.

Let’s Get Mobile!

With Google’s mobile-first index coming in 2018, now’s the time to get the mobile show on the road. Make certain websites are responsive and load quickly on a mobile device. Optimize on-page data for mobile SERPs and make sure NAP consistency is in check. Don’t forget the small mobile touches like a clickable call link with a phone number. And think about answering potential voice-assisted search queries with original content.

These steps, along with the other foundations of local SEO, will put you on track to succeed in the mobile-first world.

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